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>• ,«»^ ^Cornell University Library 
N 6921.B69R14 

The women artists of Bologna / 

3 1924 020 692 624 

The original of tiiis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 












First Published in igof 








Introduction . 



Santa Caterina da Bologna . 
I. Caterina's Childhood 
II. Caterina at the Court of Ferrara 

III. Caterina's Noviciate . 

IV. Caterina the professed "Clarissa" 
V. The New Colony 

VI. The Death of the Righteous . 
VII. Caterina's Post-mortem History 
VIII. Caterina the Artist . 

Authorities . 
Appendix A . 
Appendix B . 

1500 (?)-iS30 
Propbrzia db' Rossi 

Authoritibs . . . . 
Appendix . . . . 








The Meeting of Emperor Charles V with Pope Cle- 
ment VII IN Bologna, 1529 184 

Detail of picture by Marco Vecellio in the Hall of the Council 
of Ten, Ducal Palace, Venice 

Portrait of Lavinia Fontana painted by herself . . 193 
UfEzi Gallery, Florence 
From a Photograph by Signor G. Brogi^ Florence 

The Gozzadini Family 208 

Gozzadini Palace, Via Santo Stephano, Bologna 
From a Photograph hy Signore Ramhaldi 

The Infant Francis I of France, presented by his Mother, 
Louise de Savoie, for the Blessing of S. Francesco di 
Paola 214 

Pinacoteca, Bologna. Sala del Tiarini 

From a Photograph by Signor P, Poppi, Bologna 

Portrait of Elisabetta Sirani painted by Herself . . 229 
Pinacoteca, Bologna 
From a Photograph by Signor P. Poppi^ Bologna 

Caricature of the Old Man Riali 274 

From a tracing made by the author of the copy preserved 
with the MS. of the Processo in the Archivio di Stato, 

The Baptism of Christ 294 

The Certosa, Bologna 

From a Photograph by Signor P^ Poppi, Bologna 

The Christ-Child on the Globe 296 

Pinacoteca, Bologna 

From a Photograph by Signor P. Poppi^ Bologna 

The Conversion of St. Eustache 304 

From an engraving in the possession of the author 

Map of Bologna At End 


THIS book came into being almost against the will 
of its author. Other work had been conceived and 
was taking shape, when Fate decreed a long residence 
in Italy, and then making her commands more definite, 
unexpectedly enjoined an eight months' sojourn in 
Bologna. There the libraries and the environment 
offered but scant encouragement for a study of Napo- 
leonic France, while the opportunity of learning some- 
thing of the history of one of the most interesting and 
less known of Italian cities was too precious to be neg- 
lected. Desultory reading in the Archiginnasio was 
begun, and then ceased to be desultory. By degrees 
facts were strung on golden threads of biography : 
soon the distinction and achievements of Bologna's 
women were noted as a characteristic of the city's his- 
tory. Eager inquiries elicited the ignorance of the 
cultured many, and the very partial knowledge of the 
learned few. Curiosity was piqued ; the obscurity of 
the subject enhanced its fascination ; its elusiveness in- 
creased the ardour of pursuit. Little by little the con- 
viction gained ground that the lives of the women 
artists and the bas bleus of Bologna might well be 
brought before the notice of English readers. 


That the task has been accomplished, however un- 
satisfactorily, is largely due to the encouragement and 
help of friends and counsellors to whom the author 
would take this opportunity of returning heart-felt 
thanks. Chief among these are : the sisters of the 
Convent of Corpus Domini in Bologna ; the illustrious 
Corrado Ricci and Ispettore Ferri in Florence ; Cav. 
Livi, head of the Archivio in Bologna; Professor Albano 
Sorbelli and his colleagues in the Archiginnasio ; Dottori 
Ludovico Frati of the University Library; and Herr 
Frank, the genial Padrone of the Hotel Brun. 

L. M. R, 

Bblluno, December, igo6 



FROM the days of the shadowy precursors of 
Accursius down to the modern times of Carducci, 
Trombetti, and Marconi, Bologna has shown herself 
the mother and nurse of genius. Nor has she reserved 
her maternal tenderness exclusively for her male nurs- 
lings. No city in the world has produced more women 
of distinguished talent ; none has been more prompt 
to further their achievements, more generous in crown- 
ing their success. We are not speaking, moreover, 
of ladies of exalted birth and exceptional opportunity, 
such as those who graced many of the Italian courts 
of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and who, be- 
trothed in childhood, owed alike their unusual educa- 
tion and their subsequent influence to their husbands' 
power and position; but of women belonging to obscure 
and sometimes to poor families, who achieved a name 
and fame by their own exertions, before or independ- 
ently of marriage. 


Conspicuous among these are the women directly 
connected with the University. In the fourteenth cen- 
tury there is the romantic figure of Novella Andrea, 
outlined for us, alas ! as vaguely as for her students, 
from whom, on account of her perturbing personal 
attractions, she was screened while lecturing by a 
curtain ; while towards the end of the eighteenth and 
beginning of the nineteenth century we meet three 
deeply-learned ladies crowned with every possible Uni- 
versity distinction — Laura Bassi, Clotilda Tambroni, 
and Anna Morandi. Next to this triad of bos bleus, 
and between them and the veiled lecturer in point of 
time, are several ladies remarkable for culture and 
philanthropy, while the four artists whose lives are 
sketched in these pages form a third category of dis- 
tinguished Bolognese women. 

Every biography is like a coin with two faces. The 
one is stamped with an image and superscription, the 
other with a coat-of-arms, a device, an allegory. The 
one relates to the individual, the other to his environ- 
ment Sometimes the obverse, sometimes the reverse 
is the clearer and more interesting. Sometimes both 
are blurred, and can be deciphered only by comparison 
with other coins of the period. 

In the first of these four sketches the personal interest 
predominates. The likeness of the woman is clear : her 
surroundings are misty and undetermined. She was 
a cloistered nun, who saw the world without only per- 
speculum in enigmate, as the Lady of Shalott saw the life 
and stir and pomp and toil of the high road to Arthur's 


capital — but without observing it so closely. Her book 
of religious instructions, with its innumerable fine auto- 
biographical touches, gives us a picture not of the times, 
but of the inner, nay the inmost, life of a fifteenth- 
century religious. It takes us into the secret places 
of a soul, and we know the " Santa " of Bologna as we 
know few of our friends — perhaps as we only now and 
then know ourselves. And while her own writings 
make us see her from her own standpoint, the memoir 
written by her loved companion, Suor lUuminata Bembo, 
enables us to view her from without, critically, at the 
distance from which we contemplate our acquaintance. 
We recognize that she was a nun first, by natural fit- 
ness, by heart-whole profession, and only secondarily 
a painter ; but the artistic level to which, even under 
these conditions, she attained, her administrative ability 
— often only another manifestation of creative talent — 
her faculties of observation, shown in her knowledge of 
character and the tactful management of her nuns, her 
faculty of expression in words, and her generally culti- 
vated mind, may well lead us to believe that under 
other circumstances, in another age, Caterina dei Vigri 
would have been a greater artist than any of her three 

In the life of the sculptress, Properzia dei Rossi, it is 
the picturesque and external aspect of biography which 
predominates. In spite of the bas-relief in the Museum 
of S. Petronio, which is said to be the revelation and the 
monument of her love and her despair, we never really 


come close to her. But the story of her unhappy passion, 
the superficial classicality and intense individualism of 
her work ; the boldness, the graceful self-possession, the 
lack of self-consciousness with which she ventures into 
paths hitherto untrodden by her sex ; the spontaneous 
and unstinted appreciation of her fellow-citizens — all 
are typical and redolent of the age to which she belonged. 
Her death, too, is inextricably associated with one of 
the most picturesque and eventful episodes in the history 
of Bologna — the coronation of the Emperor Charles V 
by the Pope Clement VII. 

The period between the death of Caterina dei Vigri 
and the childhood of Properzia dei Rossi coincided with 
the brilliant but insecure rule of Giovanni Bentivoglio II, 
whose life has somehow escaped the attention which Eng- 
lishmen have bestowed so abundantly on other Italian 
tyrants. That rule ended in 1506, and the gorgeous 
ceremony in S. Petronio in the year 1 530 seemed the out- 
ward visible sign of Bologna's willing submission to the 
papal government — a government which lasted from that 
time onwards to the day when the city became part of 
the " Kingdom of Italy " as the " Department of the 
Reno." It was the signal also of the advancing wave 
of the Catholic reaction, destined before long to sweep 
away all the aspirations and tendencies and many of 
the achievements of the period which had produced and 
inspired a Properzia dei Rossi. 

By the time Lavinia Fontana had begun to paint, the 
pendulum had swung backwards to its limit The child- 


like spirit of fearless curiosity, which was the peculiar 
charm and peril of the men and women of the renais- 
sance, had been chastened into conventional correctness. 
Orthodoxy triumphed all along the line — making its 
own even the pagan culture and worship of antiquity 
which had consumed an earlier generation, everywhere 
erecting sign-posts and fences for the guidance and 
restraint of the human spirit, and, to some extent, 
strengthening and restoring the moral boundaries over- 
thrown by the intense desire for self-realization and self- 

Three events which occurred during Lavinia's life- 
time, and within the range of her immediate cognizance, 
give us the measure of the social conditions of her day. 
They were: (i) The execution of Giordano Bruno as 
a heretic (1600); (2) the death of Tasso in the 
Convent of St. Onofrio in Rome (1597), a weary, dis- 
appointed craven, fearful lest the Holy OflSce should 
censure his Gerusalumme Liberata; (3) the publication 
and enormous success of Marini's "Adonis." Scientific 
inquiry and free discussion are prohibited ; true poetry 
is suffocated in an atmosphere from which the oxygen 
of the renaissance has been exhausted ; and as a sub- 
stitute for it Italian society is supplied with a souffli of 
preposterous metaphors and frothy hyperboles creamy 
with facile imagination, unsalted by genius, devoid of 
a particle of spiritual nourishment, but served with a 
sauce of piquant lasciviousness. 

Lavinia Fontana's life and works reflect for good and 
evil, the evil and good of her day. An excellent 


daughter, wife and mother, exemplary and regular in 
conduct, tranquil, popular, and prosperous, she is a com- 
plete and significant contrast to the brilliant, beautiful 
Properzia, with her tragic, shamelessly proclaimed 
passions, and her miserable, untimely death. 

As an artist Lavinia was successful in her day, and 
remains admirable, chiefly because of her limitations, 
and the good sense which made her recognize them. 
Portrait painting does not demand — and perhaps cannot 
express — the very highest gifts of imagination, while 
it gives unlimited scope to technical skill and the colour 
sense. When Lavinia accepted commissions for religious 
or historical pictures, she remained a portrait painter. Her 
well-known picture in the gallery of Bologna, represent- 
ing S. Francesco di Paolo blessing the infant Francis I 
of France, is merely an interesting and highly decorative 
portrait group. More historical imagination is shown in 
the " Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes " in the 
church of S. Maria della Pieta ; but while all Properzia's 
pseudo-classicism of treatment has disappeared, and 
the old forms of religious art have been restored, the 
breath of life no longer animates them. Lavinia's 
Madonnas do not inspire, and were not inspired by 

In the days of Elisabetta Sirani we see the received 
types growing more stereotyped, while a certain mere- 
tricious sentimentality differentiates them strangely 
from their Quattrocento prototypes. This sentiment- 
ality, artificial though it be, is the genuine expression 


of the Zeitgeist of the seventeenth century, and has its 
counterpart in the dress, the furniture, the manners of 
the period. It is sufficiently marked in the work of 
Guido Reni, the master of Elisabetta's father and her 
own exemplar, and is still more accentuated in her 
sweet-faced Virgins and graceful Holy Families. 

Her story is full both of personal and social interest. 
It exhibits most picturesquely the conditions of domestic 
service, the medical ignorance, the legal procedure, the 
pompous funeral ceremonies of the time, while its 
central feature is that horrible characteristic of the 
Seicento, the prevalence and constant dread of secret 

The trial of the maidservant who was supposed to be 
the instrument of Elisabetta's death is as much with- 
in the MS. of the Processo in the Archivio of Bologna 
"and nowhere out of it,", as the trial of Pompilia's 
murderers was in that " square old yellow book " which 
Browning picked up for a lira from a stall in the square of 
San Lorenzo. There we find the deposition of witnesses 
— made in no open court, but taken down separately 
and privately by the Sub- Auditor of the Torrone; there, 
too, are the pleadings of the lawyers, the Sirani's friend 
Bianchini, counsel for the prosecution, and Niccolo de 
Lemmi, acting for the Committee for the Defence of the 
Poor. And these interrogatorii and these orations give 
us not only a clear understanding of the conduct of 
a criminal case in the seventeenth century, but also a 
strangely intimate knowledge of Elisabetta's rather 
dreary working life, and of her last hideous sufferings. 


She was younger than Properzia dei Rossi when she 
died, having only attained the age of twenty-seven ; 
but in a short time truly she had fulfilled a long time. 
Her own, by no means exhaustive, catalogue of finished 
work reveals an almost incredible amount of activity 
and accomplishment. 




b. 1413. d. 1463. 




THE enormous quadrangle of blank brick wall, 
representing to the world outside it the Convent 
of Corpus Domini in Bologna, is broken in the Via 
Tagliapietre by a portal of singular beauty. This lovely 
door with its terra-cotta mouldings, the work of the 
medallist Sperandio, is all that remains of the original^ 
outer church, which, less than twenty years after her 
death, the pious Bolognese erected in memory of the 
first abbess. The fifteenth-century portal gives access 
to a barocco temple, well proportioned and richly 
decorated, which is, however, only the ante-chamber to 
a small cell, entered from the second chapel on the left. 
In this cell beneath a gorgeous canopy the " Santa " sits 
enthroned, to receive the homage of the faithful. 

The body is unsupported ; the posture is natural ; 
the skin on hands and feet and face is perfect, uncor- 
rupted, it is said flexible. Yet no grinning skeleton or 
ghostly corpse could be more unlifelike than this small 
erect figure, whose discoloured wizened face is thrown 
into hideous relief by the splendour of silk and gems 
and cloth of gold. A splendid diadem glitters above 
the black veil ; the brown habit of the Poor Clare is 
replaced by a regal mantle ; there is a written notice in 

' Built in 1481 by the architects Marchione da Faenza and Baitolomeo 
da Dozza. 



the cell that priests are permitted to kiss the Santa's 

That the woman who yearned for strict seclusion and 
shunned observation, who in early youth fled from the 
pomps and vanities of a court, and who loved poverty 
as whole-heartedly as her master St. Francis — that 
this humble, sensitive, reserved gentlewoman should be 
thus arrayed in garish splendour, and exposed to the 
gaze of the curious, seems the irony of a satiric fate. 

We turn with relief to the relics disposed on the walls 
of the cell. There, in a locked glass case, is one of the 
many breviaries copied and illuminated by the Saint, 
for the use of the community. There hangs a picture, 
unsigned, but attributed by constant tradition to 
Caterina, the lovely Madonna of the Apple. There, 
most interesting of all, is the little viol on which the 
dying Abbess played to the wonder and admiration of 
her flock. With these objects, not the bedizened husk 
of her gracious spirit, in our minds, let us try to trace 
the history of this gentle follower of St. Francis, who, 
long before her canonization, was to Bologna what 
Anthony was to Padua, — The Saint, 



A child most infantine, 
Yet wandering far beyond that innocent age 
In all but its sweet looks and mien divine ; 
Even then, methought, with the world's tyrant rage 
A patient warfare thy young heart did wage. 

Shellev, Revolt of Islam 

"/^^ATERINA 'poverella,' Bolognese, that is in 
v_^ Bologna begotten, born and bred, and in Ferrara 
by Christ espoused." Thus Caterina dei Vigri, as 
though foreseeing the subsequent competition between 
Ferrara and Bologna for the possession of a new saint, 
defined with legal precision her position in respect to 
both cities. 

She died in the city where she first saw the light, and, 
though professed in Ferrara, her life as abbess was 
passed in Bologna. The Ferrarese had, however, this 
much in their favour — the Vigri family was wholly 
theirs. Girolamo Baruffaldi, an industrious Ferrarese 
writer of the eighteenth century, gives the family tree 
as follows : — 



Vigrio, lived in Ferrara in 1307. 

Zaccaro Capitano. 
Nascimpace, Doctor of Law. 

Count Alberto. Giovanni, Doctor of Law. 

Died 1470 ; buried in church Died 1426. 

of Ognisanti Ferrara, in the I 

chapel of St. Ives. His des- Santa Caterina da Bologna, 
cendants became extinct in 

The family was certainly an honourable one. Some 
authorities declare that it was connected with the 
ruling house of Este, while Caterina's friend, successor, 
and biographer, Illuminata Bembo — herself a Venetian 
patrician — naively informs us that the Vigri were 
" visited by all people of consequence in Ferrara," and 
that Giovanni was " a man of substance and came of a 
good house, nor had he ever exercised any trade (arte) 
nor knew how to do so, but was a good scholar, and 
a doctor, and many important offices were given to 

It is unfortunate that Sister Illuminata does not tell 
us where the father of her friend studied and took his 
degree. In the eighteenth century, at the time of her 
formal beatification, the good citizens of Ferrara main- 
tained with much plausibility that if " La Santa's '' 
family were Ferrarese she herself could not be Bolognese.^ 

' "Memorie della Lite e Pretensione de Ferraresi che la nostra B. 
Caterina da Bologna si dovesse chiamare da Ferrara. Unpublished MS. 
Archivio Arcivescovile, Bologna." 


"For," said their advocates, "when embassies and affairs 
of state take men with their families for many years 
away from their native country, it must needs happen 
that they have children born in foreign parts," but these 
children belong legally "not to the country of their 
birth, but to that of their family." To this the lawyers 
of Bologna answered that Doctor Giovanni dei Vigri 
having taken his degree in civil law in Bologna became 
according to the law of the city a Bolognese citizen. 
A Bolognese citizen, he married a Bolognese lady, and 
of this marriage Caterina was born — a Bolognese. 

The fundamental assertion of the Bolognese lawyers 
cannot now be verified, the University registers for the 
opening years of the fifteenth century having been 
destroyed by fire. But the fact that Giovanni dei Vigri 
took his degree in Bologna never seems to have been 
disputed by the Ferrarese, though they may have scorned 
the inferences drawn from it ; and it is unhesitatingly 
accepted by the Jesuit Father Grassetti, who, in 1653, 
wrote what may be called the authorized life of the 

Nothing, indeed, could have been more natural than 
that a Ferrarese youth of parts, with a distinguished 
lawyer for his grandfather and an elder brother destined 
for a military career, should have been sent to study 
law in the famous neighbouring University of Bologna, 
nor could a youth of character and parts intending to 
serve his country as a diplomat have had a better train- 
ing than that afforded by the life of a medieval student. 

It was a many-tinted, eventful existence, demanding 
and enforcing self-reliance, courage, and address, and 
ensuring an acquaintance with many foreign tongues 


and modes of thought. At an age when a modern boy- 
is surrounded by teachers and governors at school, the 
fifteenth-century undergraduate selected his own teach- 
ers, course of study, and lodging, making his own 
contract with his host, and living practically without 
control. In Bologna the bell of S. Petronio summoned 
the students every morning to common worship, after 
which they went their several ways to the private 
houses or class-rooms {scuole) of their chosen teachers, 
who lectured between nine a.m. and midday and between 
three p.m. and six, for at least one hour at a time. Gio- 
vanni dei Vigri being a student of civil law would have 
directed his steps to the legal quarter of the city, the 
district in the neighbourhood of Via S. Mammolo (now 
Via d' Azeglio). In the scuole he would have mingled 
with boys of all nations, kindreds, and tongues — stu- 
dents from England, Germany, and France, from Spain 
and Portugal, from Sclavonia and the Indies, and from 
every part of Italy — a cosrriopolitan audience which was 
not always patient or courteous. 

Even in the seventeenth century, when the University 
organization was more centralized and defined, we learn 
from the letter^ of a Bohemian student that the lecture- 
room of an unpopular teacher was the scene of out- 
rageous disorder. " When a doctor does not please in 
his lecture," wrote the young Bohemian, "they clap 
their hands and stamp their feet in order to compel him 
to quit the chair. Swords on such occasions are some- 

' Martin Horky to Kepler. Published by A. Favaro. Atii e Memorie 
Dep. Storia Pairia, per le Prov. di Rom. Vol. X. Further he declares : 
"Vita dissoluta. Fui Bononiae per sexannos lunares, gladios vagina 
vacuos magis quam millies vidi." 




times drawn. Vidi et saepe video." Sometimes un- 
popular teachers were attacked in other ways. In 1414, 
for example, Doctor Jacopo dei Vinidani was insulted 
by a law-student of Lucca, who placarded libels against 
him in two diiiferent places in the city. More frequently 
still they were robbed, the objects stolen being gene- 
rally books.^ It is fair to the offenders to remember 
that the poor scholar could seldom afford books of his 
own, and was terribly hindered by the lack of them. 
Sometimes he stipulated with his host for the use of a 
very limited library together with board and lodging ; 
sometimes he borrowed at a fixed rate from stationers 
and lecturers — practices affording ample scope for biblio- 
philic dishonesty. He suffered also from lack of privacy. 
Frequently he shared his mean room with a student as 
poor as himself, and used the streets as his study and 
parlour ; so that a modern Bolognese writer ^ believes 
that the existence of the porticoes which are such char- 
acteristic features of Bologna and Padua may be largely 
attributed to " the immense number of scholars who 
were obliged to pass great part of the day and evening 
in the streets," and for whom a shelter from winter 
storms and summer sun was imperative. Such a prac- 
tice, given the extreme youth of the students and the 
mixture of nationalities, was of course not favourable to 
the quiet and order of the city. Brawls and quarrels, 
often ending in bloodshed,^ were of frequent occurrence 

' The records of the actions for theft are interesting in that they furnish 
us with the names and values of the books used by the teachers of the day 
and coveted by their scholars. 

^ L. Frati, Vtia Privata di Bologna. 

' The quarrel was sometimes carried into the lecture-room. Giovanni 
dei Vigri was probably a " fresher " at Bologna when a Genoese, by name 



among these "Cervelli turbidi ed ingegni storti," as a 
chronicler of the fifteenth century calls the undergradu- 
ates of his own and Giovanni's day. 

No student could be a candidate for the laurea 
dottorale till he had completed the twentieth year of 
his age and an eight years course of study ; nor, we 
may add, unless he were what Illuminata Bembo ex- 
plicitly affirms Giovanni to have been — " a man of sub- 

The closing act of the scholar's career was performed 
with costly pomp and circumstance. In the case of a 
youth of good family belonging to the city it was cele- 
brated like the coming of age of a modern son and heir. 
Thus when Taddeo Pepoli took his doctor's degree, his 
father, Romeo, presented all the city guilds with sump- 
tuous liveries, and kept open house to the entire popu- 
lace of Bologna. Humbler or iqore obscure individuals 
entertained in a less extensive but sufficiently liberal 
manner ; the newly-made doctor being expected to 
provide a banquet for the troop of comrades* and well- 
wishers who accompanied him from the cathedral, where 
the degree was conferred, back to his own house. Be- 
sides these supplementary expenses there were various 
fixed dues and unfixed " tips " ; fees to the Archdeacon, 
Vicar, and notaries ; payments to beadles, bell-ringers, 
and musicians ; oblations of wine and sweetmeats to 

Gabriele Giustiniani, was assaulted during lecture by a scholar from Lucca, 
who entered the scuola with a knife, and would have killed his man, 
had not the other students rallied to his defence. 

^ On the way to the cathedral the student was accompanied by his 
relatives and by "not more than ten" of his fellow-students, together with 
the two doctors who presented him to the Archdeacon and certified that 
they had examined him privately and were satisfied as to his capacity. 


the Archdeacon ; of a ring, cap, and pair of gloves to 
the Prior, and of eight " braccia " of fine cloth to each 
of the " presentors." 

There is a tradition, made use of by the Bolognese 
lawyers in 1704, that Giovanni dei Vigri, after re- 
ceiving his doctor's degree, remained in Bologna as a 
lecturer. The tradition is not disproved by the absence 
of his name from the lists^ of professors of the studio 
receiving stipends from the commune ; for on the one 
hand the lists are imperfect, and on the other there were 
many teachers outside them whose payment was a 
matter of private contract between themselves and their 
scholars. It is, moreover, supported by the fact of his 
marriage with a Bolognese lady of good family, whose 
attractions may well have increased the disinclination 
felt by many a graduate since Giovanni's time to leave 
a spot endeared by countless romantic and intellectual 

We unfortunately know nothing of the wooing and 
wedding of this lady, who bore the sweet Italian name 
of Benvenuta^ — a name surely full of suggestiveness to 
a lover's ear. She came of the family of Mamolini, 
who in the year 1465 certainly possessed houses^ in the 
Via dei Toschi, and who were presumably there fifty 
years previously. One of these houses, recently de- 
stroyed to make room for the new General Post Office, 
was marked by a tablet declaring it to be the birthplace 
of Santa Caterina da Bologna ; but the Bolognese tra- 
dition that this house was her home till her eleventh 
year cannot be proved or disproved by documentary 

' Mandati di Pagamenti. Archiv. di Bologna. 
" See Guidicini, 1463. Via dei Toschi. 


evidence. The wording of Caterina's auto-description, 
"in Bologna acquistata nata ed allevata," appears to 
favour the Bolognese pretensions, but allevata may only 
mean that she remained in Bologna till she was weaned ; 
and the Ferrarese maintain that Benvenuta merely 
went to her parents' home for her confinement. 

On one point all authorities are agreed — namely, that 
Giovanni was at Padua, on the business of his master, 
the Marchese Niccolo, when Caterina came into the 
world. This fact afforded scope for the introduction of 
one of the supernatural incidents indispensable to the 
infancy of a child destined to attain sanctity, or even 
conspicuous mundane celebrity. The absent Giovanni's 
thoughts continually turned homewards to the wife he 
had left enceinte and the child who was coming ; till at 
length on the night of September the seventh, he 
dreamed that Benvenuta was safely delivered of a 
daughter, and that she was destined to be no common 
child. Little by little this most natural vision of a 
young father was improved on, till at length Caterina's 
birth was said to have been announced by the Virgin 
Mother herself, who declared that the newly-born infant 
would be "a clear light to the world." In a curious 
hymn in Caterina's honour, printed less than forty years 
after her death, we see the legend growing : — 

Quando nascisti virgine beata 
il padre tuo a padua era andato 
la tua nativita li fu annunciata 
per visione e per divino trovato 
dicto li fu che fosse ritornata 
a la sua patria che tropo era stato 
per questo ritorno poi lui a bologna 


quello che dicto li fu non fu menzogna. 
Non so cht annunciAsse quesii al padre. 
Credo chefusse la divina madre} 

Another of the hymns puts the incident more briefly 
and adds a fresh touch. 

Trovo che a padoa fusti revelata 
Dafeminil race a tuo par dicendo 
Va a bologna chuna putta te nata.^ 

The new-born infant's placid disposition and low 
vitality furnished in retrospect additional indications 
of the Divine calling and election. To quote again 
from the quaint hymn in her honour. The father on 
his return from Padua— r 

Ritrovo nato quello olente fiore 

Che per tre zorni lacte non gustava 

nutrita alia era del divino amore 

e come agnello mansueta stava 

non piangeva ne monstrava alchun dolore 

tanta al^greza Deo nel core li dava.^ 

^ When thou wast born, blessed virgin, 

Thy father to Padua had gone. 

Thy birth to him was announced 

By vision and divine discovery ; 

It was told him he must needs return 

Unto his country, that too long he had tarried. 

Therefore returned he forthwith to Bologna. 

That which had been told him was no lie ; 

I know not who announced this to the father, 

But I believe it must have been the Divine Mother. 
" I find that at Padua thou wast revealed 

By feminine voice to thy father, saying, 

Go to Bologna for a baby-girl is born to thee. 
' Found born that fragrant flower, 

Who for three days tasted no milk ; 


Caterina's equanimity of temper and preternatural 
gravity outlasted her swaddling clothes. She was 
never naughty and never played like other children ; 
was quick at her lessons, and eager to imitate and aid 
her mother in devotional exercises and works of charity. 
And, since the fifteenth century for good and evil knew 
nothing of " child-study " and " the principles of educa- 
tion," the precocious piety and learning of the sickly, 
intelligent, sweet-natured only daughter of Giovanni 
and Benvenuta were encouraged, forced, and applauded 
by admiring relatives and friends. 

The fond father continually employed on affairs of 
state, undoubtedly talked proudly of the infant prodigy 
to his master, in whom paternal affection was also a 
strong feature. Its objects in the case of the Marchese 
d'Este were unfortunately not born in wedlock. It is 
possible that had the childless Gigliola da Carrara — the 
bride given to Niccol6 III when a mere boy of fourteen 
— been able to hold him by the ties which in the case of 
others he acknowledged readily and loyally, he would 
never have formed the licentious habits which increas- 
ingly disfigured his strong, vigorous, and enlightened 
character. It is certain that many of his natural chil- 
dren enjoyed not only a princely state, but a liberal 
education and a careful upbringing, such as was received 
by few of the ruling families of the day. 

One of these children, a daughter named Margherita, 
was a few months older than Giovanni's little girl, who 

Nourished she was by divine love. 
And like a gentle lamb she lay, 
Nor wept, nor manifested any pain ; 
Such joy God gave her in her heart. 


was possibly a distant kinsman of the Marchese, and 
was obviously what would be considered a desirable 
companion. Thus it came to pass that at the age of 
eleven Caterina, doubtless to her own great benefit, 
became a member of the Este household and found a 
friend and mistress in the " Principessa Margherita." 



Ne le scendente spire de la conchiglla un eco 
d' antichi pianti, un suono di lungo sospiro profondo 
dal grande oceano ond' alia strappata fu permane 
cosi per le tue piazze dilette dal sole, O Ferrara, 
il nuovo peregrino tende le orecchie e ode 
da' marmorei palagi sul Po discendere lenta 
processione e canto d' un fantastico epos. 

Carducci, Alia Citth di Ferrara 

A GREAT part of the charm which the smaller and 
less progressive cities of Italy possess for the 
traveller lies in the fact that in them he temporarily 
forgets the haste and vulgarity of modern life, and 
realizes with intense vividness the days of their former 
splendour, so that the present grows remote for him, 
and the past becomes present. 

Ferrara, for example, except on market-day, is what 
a great modern poet has called it, a " citta di silenzio." 
The men and women who glide down the long vistas of 
deserted streets seem less substantial than the ghosts 
which throng the sunny squares "where no footfall 
violates the luminous mysteries." Beautiful "in splendid 
April hours," indescribably mournful when wrapped in 
autumn mists, icily calm amid the snows of winter, the 
Lady of the Po, as Tasso called her, sits benumbed 



and apathetic, high and dry above the water floods, 
dreaming of the long past days when she and the river 
were young and vigorous together. 

But the decay of Ferrara's prosperity was due to 
something more than changes in the physical configura- 
tion of her territory. Her life was derived not only 
from her river, but from her rulers. When the fecund 
strength of both was drained away, her active career 
was over. With his singular power of enunciating 
profound truths and compressing large tracts of history 
in a single dramatic episode, the late Mr. Shorthouse 
described, by means of a brief conversation between 
John Inglesant and a Ferrarese beggar, the disastrous 
effects of the extinction of the house of Este, and of 
the Papal government which followed. Inglesant, 
leaving his companions after dinner, wanders forth to 
take the air, and enters into conversation with divers 
priests and loiterers. Some of the latter, perceiving 
that he was a foreigner, and ignorant that he was riding 
in the train of a Cardinal, begin to whisper of Papal 
severity, exactions, and confiscations which "had 
doomed many of the principal inhabitants of the city." 
" They talk of the bad air," said one of these men to 
Inglesant ; " the air was the same a century ago, when 
this city was flourishing under its own princes — princes 
of so eminent a virtue, of so heroical a nobleness that 
they were really Fathers of their country. Nothing," 
he continued, with a mute gesture of the hands, "can 
be imagined more changed than this is now.'' 

Mr. Shorthouse's Ferrarese beggar speaks with the 
appropriate exaggeration of a man who remembers 
"happier days." With the exception of Niccolo Ill's 


son, Leonello, whose charming personality typifies all 
that was good and gracious in the early Quattrocento, 
the princes of the house of Este were not paragons of 
"heroical nobleness," nor were they actively and con- 
sciously Fathers of their country. They had the faults 
common to the Italian despot of the time — but they 
had them in diminished strength; they had the numerous 
and brilliant facets, the intense vitality, the genuine 
humanism characteristic even of some of the worst 
rulers of their age, and they had them in an intense 
degree. They were cruel and lustful, but they were 
always men with passions controlled by reason, not 
madmen at large, monsters in human form, incarnate 
fiends, like Sigismundo Malatesta, Galeazzo Maria 
Sforza, or Ferrante of Aragon. They were tyrannical ; 
but like our own Tudor sovereigns they had a knack of 
feeling the popular pulse, and of winning popular 
applause, and their heavily taxed subjects were proud 
of their magnificence. Most of them had a singular 
genius for diplomacy, a singular personal charm, and a 
real regard for art and letters. Under them Ferrara 
became one of the most ardent foci of intellectual life 
in the peninsula, a magnet attracting "whoe'er in Italy 
is known to fame." 

This brilliant epoch was inaugurated by Giovanni dei 
Vigri's sovereign and employer. Niccol6 III, and the 
young wife whom he wedded in 141 8, stand with their 
backs turned to the dark, rude epoch of war, and their 
faces lighted by the dawn of the renaissance. Parisina 
da Malatesta, with her aesthetic instincts, her capacity 
for organization, her radiant vitality, reminds us not 
a little of her husband's granddaughter, the " incom- 


parable lady" who summed up and expressed all the 
charm of her family and of renaissance womanhood. 
Like Isabella d'Este, the Marchesana Parisina was an 
"errant princess," wandering continually from one 
summer palace to another. Like her she played and 
sang, and delighted in all sorts of music. Like her, she 
had a fine taste in the adornment of her rooms and her 
person. Painters decorated her oratory and her house- 
hold furniture, while the merchants of Venice supplied 
her with finely wrought combs and delicate perfumes. 
She was less highly educated than the pupil of Jacopo 
Gallino, her reading consisting chiefly of French 
romances — " istorie francesi " ; and she was much more 
of a sportswoman, caring greatly for her dogs and fal- 
cons, entering her horses not only for the races of Fer- 
rara, but for ^h&palii of other cities, and sharing her 
prizes with her jockeys. Pleasure-loving, artistic, athletic, 
she was none the less an excellent and industrious 
housekeeper. Her husband's heterogeneous family 
found in her a kind stepmother. She trained her twelve 
maidens in housewifely skill, found them husbands, 
supplied their dowries, and filled their marriage chests. 
She was responsible too for the clothing of the entire 
household, from her stepsons' tutor to the meanest 

The little Caterina dei Vigri had been a member of 
that household only a few months when its fair and 
brilliant mistress was suddenly removed. After 2 1 May, 
1425, the name of Parisina appears no more in the 
annals of the house of Este. 

The story of the guilty love of the young Marches- 
ana with Ugo Aldrobandini, Niccolo's first-born son, is 


obscured by the reticence of contemporaries and the 
embellishments of poets. The disgrace of an illustrious 
house was decently covered, and all that we know with 
certainty from original sources is that on the night of 
21 May, in that part of Niccolo's great red -brick castello 
called " The Tower of the Lions," Parisina and Ugo 
expiated their sin, and that with them ^ " was beheaded 
one Aldrovandino di Rangoni of the same family as 
the aforesaid lord because he had been the occasion of 
this ill." The contemporary Bolognese chronicler 
Griffoni adds that two of the Lady Parisina's women 
were also executed, and that^ " all the people of Ferrara 
lamented greatly at the death of the aforesaid Ugo, for 
that he was an honest, fair, and good youth, and much 
beloved of the people of Ferrara." 

We do not know what impression the fate of the 
Marchesana made upon her heterogeneous family. 
Leonello,* who was shortly afterwards legitimated as 
heir-apparent by Pope Martin V, benefited by his 
brother's fate ; but, gentle and gracious spirit that he 
was, we can hardly suppose that he rejoiced at it. 
Borso,* at the time a boy of twelve, long afterwards, 
when he had succeeded to his father's and his brother's 
place, spoke with approval of Niccolo's terrible act of 
vengeance. The girls, to whatever extent they mourned 
her, must have been disagreeably affected by the loss of 
a woman's care. The household was without a mistress : 
the court was under a cloud. Of one thing we may 

' Diario Ferrarese, Muratori, Vol. XXIV. 

" Matthaeus de Griffonibus, Muratori, Vol. XVIII, pt. ii. Edt. 1902. 

^ Leonello was seventeen when his brother was executed. 

■* Borso was born in 1413 ; he was therefore the same age as Caterina. 


feel certain, Margherita and her young companion were 
assuredly not ignorant of the details and import of 
the tragedy. It was an age of plain speaking and 
brief childhood, and the composition of the household, 
Margherita's own position, the French romances 
read aloud by Parisina's maidens, together with the 
sermons of the day, must already have enlightened the 
two children as to the meaning of the seventh com- 
mandment and the frequency of its infraction. On a 
sensitive and precocious girl like Caterina dei Vigri the 
awful fate of a kind mistress and a gay and gallant 
acquaintance cannot but have produced a horrible and 
permanent impression. The sting of love and sin and 
retribution must have left a painful mark upon her 
mind, originating, or increasing, the distaste for the life 
of the world which she very early evinced. 

This distaste certainly did not spring from pique, 
disappointment or sense of failure. Caterina's life 
at court seems to have been successful and serene. 
Her young mistress loved her with a tender and 
enduring affection ; and in spite of the marked favour 
shown her, she met with no unkindness. A woman's 
superiority of intellect and character rarely provokes 
jealousy unless she be beautiful, witty, or conceited. 
Caterina was plain, a fragile brown-skinned creature, 
whose only remarkable feature was a pair of large 
expressive eyes. She talked little, but her voice was 
sweet. She was modest and unassuming, grave and 
discreet beyond her years, seeking not her own, shunning 
rather than courting admiration. She was, in fact, one 
of those retiring, reliable, gentle natures who "wear 
well " ; who are not exactly popular with either sex, 


but whom women seek as confidantes and men as 

Of suitors, and that when still what we should call a 
mere child, Caterina had no lack. She had more than 
her amiability of character to recommend her. The 
only child of a wdalthy man whom Niccol6 III delighted 
to honour, she was distinctly a good match ; and 
possibly she had something of the heiress's natural dis- 
trust of fortune-hunters. Certainly she was averse to 
matrimony, and her indulgent and well-beloved father 
put no pressure on her. 

We have no direct information as to the education of 
the " Princess " Margherita and her young companion, 
but Caterina's writings and the relics in the chapel of 
the Santa at Bologna prove that she was an apt pupil, 
and indicate the range of her studies. 

Little more than a hundred years before, Paolo da 
Certaldo ^ in his advice to parents had declared that " if 
the child be a girl she should be put to sew and not to 
read, for it is not good that a woman should know how to 
read." The parents of Margherita and Caterina evidently 
thought that a girl should be taught not only to read 
but to read Latin ; not only to read Latin but to " write 
fair " ; not only to write but to illuminate, to paint, to 
play on an instrument, and to sing. This is a liberal 
education not calculated to form women of the patient 
Griselda type, and far beyond the requirements of the 
mere housekeeper and child-bearer. The ideals of the 
thirteenth century are visibly fading before the advance 
of the new learning. 

* Breve Consiglio di Paolo da Certaldo, published by S. Morpengo. 
Florence, 1872. 


Caterina's book, Le Sette Arme Necessarie alia 
Battaglia Spirituale, mystical and Trecentisti as it 
is in sentiment, is essentially a product of the new 
feminism. It was written when she was only twenty- 
five, but it bears no traces of timidity or immaturity. 
It contains many expressions of deep humility — ex- 
pressions which in Caterina's case were certainly more 
than conventional — but these are not incompatible with 
a note of dignity and authority. The young authoress 
speaks with the poise and conscious competency of a 
highly educated woman. 

The work is worthy of attention from several points 
of view : it was a new departure ; it is practically an 
autobiography ; it has real literary merit. 

The woman who wrote at all in the early fifteenth 
century had something of the temper of an adventurer — 
she who ventured into the region of theology had the 
boldness of an explorer. In the "dark ages" female 
education, in so far as it existed at all, was found in the 
shelter of the cloister. Even Paolo da Certaldo was 
willing that a girl should be taught to read if she were 
destined for a nunnery (se la vuole fare monacha), 
adding that in that case she should be sent young to 
the convent and should learn there. There had been 
highly cultured and even literary nuns before Caterina's 
day. Learned Benedictines were occupied in transcrip- 
tion, and produced MSS. far surpassing in beauty Cater- 
ina's comparatively simple breviary. Saint Radegonda 
in the sixth century had obliged her sisters at Poitiers 
to devote two hours a day to reading. Saint Lioba, 
the associate of Boniface and Walburga, and the 
honoured friend of Charlemagne, was a poetess and 


introduced the study of the Fathers and of the Canon 
Law into the teaching of her convent and its school. 
Cecilia, daughter of William the Conqueror and Abbess 
of Caen, was remarkable for her knowledge of grammar 
and philosophy. Hroswitha of Gandersheim had written 
dramas for performance in the convent. None of these 
ladies, however, had attempted to deal with the subjects 
which presumably chiefly occupied their time and 
thoughts. It was reserved for Caterina dei Vigri to 
write of the difficulties and progress of the spiritual life 
as lived within the walls of a convent. 

She conceives that life as a combat for which the 
Christian who would follow the banner of his Lord 
" who died upon the battle-field " must duly arm him- 
self. " The first weapon is Diligence ; the second is 
Distrust of Self; the third is Confidence in God ; the 
fourth is the thought of Christ's Passion ; the fifth is 
the thought of Death ; the sixth is the thought of God's 
Glory ; the seventh is the Authority of Holy Scripture." 

This arrangement of the spiritual armoury — an 
arrangement which seems to be original and arbitrary 
— determines the division of the book into seven 
chapters and an introduction. In the martial spirit 
which inspires the scheme and which breathes through 
all the autobiographical passages, we may perhaps trace 
the early influence of Caterina's paternal uncle, " Comes 
et Miles," while in the systematic arrangement of her 
material, a tendency to scholastic subtlety, and a 
marked accuracy of definition, we may see marks of her 
legal ancestry. As one example out of many of her 
careful reasoning, and of what we may call the legal 
quality of her mind, we may quote a little passage 


dealing with Christ's capacity as man to suffer the 
extremity of spiritual distress. Her theme is the third 
Weapon — Confidence in God — who, she declares, will 
never abandon those who trust in Him. "Albeit by his 
permission the Handmaiden and Bride of Christ is 
sometimes placed in such severe and painful conflict 
that she cries from her heart towards Heaven, saying : 
My God, forsake me not: yet then, when she most 
fears that she is abandoned, is she lifted closest by a 
divine and occult mystery to the highest perfection of 
God. And of this we have an example in his only Son, 
who, being at the point of a most bitter and painful 
death, cried, saying : ' Pater, ut quid me dereliquisti ? ' 
Yet we know that at that moment Christ, true Son of 
God, triumphed in complete and true perfection in the 
fulfilment of obedience to the Eternal Father, with 
whom he was perfectly united, although at that time, 
in so much as he was man, susceptible to pain and 
death, he said : ' My God, why hast thou forsaken 
Me?' But this was because the Divinity inseparably 
united to Him left the human and sensitive part 
of his nature : and this justice demanded, that the 
painful obedience of the same Christ might cancel the 
pleasurable disobedience of our first father. 

" Now returning to our proposition, the Handmaiden 
of Christ fears not to be forsaken, though sometimes 
she may seem to be : for she knows that the Eternal 
Father will not let that befall her which did not 
befall his own Son : thus when she finds herself 
in great straits and tribulation, she has confidence 
in the Divine succour, mindful of the sweet promise 
made by Him, when He said by the mouth of the 



Prophet : Cum ipso sum in tribulatione, eripiam eum, 
et glorificabo eum." 

It is noteworthy that of Caterina's direct quotations 
from the Vulgate, seven are from the Psalms and 
Prophets. The same number are from the Gospels; 
there are three from Saint Paul's Epistles, one from 
that of Saint James, and one from the Apocalypse. 
She quotes also from " that most glorious doctor of the 
ancient fathers. Saint Anthony of Vienna," from " the 
most venerable Saint Augustine," and from Saint Ber- 
nard, and is familiar with the sayings of " Frate Ber- 
nardino," " Frate Egidio," and above all " il Padre rustro 
S. Francesco." But there is absolutely no trace in her 
little book of any knowledge of the classics, an absence 
which perhaps supports, but quite as possibly originated. 
Father Grassetti's assertion that she resolutely closed 
her eyes to the antique world, and refused to read any 
Pagan authors. 

Perchance if Guerino, that most famous of renaissance 
scholars, had reached Ferrara a few years earlier, and 
Margherita had shared the lessons given to her brothers, 
or if Caterina had remained in the world a few years 
longer, and begun to feel the power and spirit of the 
new learning, as it penetrated from literature to thought, 
from thought to life, softening customs and disciplining 
manners, perhaps Ferrara would have gained a scholar 
and a poet, and Bologna would have lost a saint. As it 
was, the rising tide of humanism barely touched the 
maiden's feet, and she recoiled from it. 

In spirit Caterina belonged to an epoch earlier or 
later than her own. She might have foregathered with 
the Desert Cenobites of the third century — .and indeed 


the life of a hermit had a peculiar attraction for her — 
or have given her testimony in the meeting-house 
of some devoted, obscure, sixteenth-century English 
Puritans : and in either company she would have been 
more at home than in the fifteenth-century Court of 
Ferrara. She entirely lacked the j'ote de vivre of typical 
renaissance womanhood ; she had none of the delight 
in physical loveliness, the faculty for existing beauti- 
fully, the knack of gliding easily over the surface of life, 
which were beginning to be cultivated and displayed by 
her contemporaries. 

Her paintings are archaic, conventional, Byzantine in 
character. They somehow remind us of Illuminata's 
testimony concerning her : — 

" And this I say in commendation of her purity and 
cleanliness of body (mondezza di corpo) and mind that 
I, and others living here, heard her say these words, 
that never, never, never, had she looked upon her own 

And if her paintings show no trace of the new con- 
ception that the human frame is worthy of patient and 
reverent study, still less do her writings indicate any 
loving observation of natural phenomena or of animal 
or plant life. The world which to Leonello and his 
nieces, Isabella and Beatrice d'Este, was truly a garden 
of delight, was to Caterina only a place of exile and 
repentance. Men were to be strangers and pilgrims, 
travelling unobservant and self-absorbed as Saint 
Bernard on his Swiss tour, not like Chaucer's sociable 
caravan, nor like the companions of Saint Francis, 
noting the ways of beast and bird and the humours of 
the road. The power to appreciate the latter was 


apparently quite absent from Caterina's composition. 
And if it be urged that a book of spiritual instructions 
offers but little scope for the display of such a faculty, 
we would ask the reader to turn to the sermons of her 
contemporary, S. Bernardino — whom she greatly ad- 
mired — to see how even direct religious teaching may 
be salted with humour. Moreover, while Sister Illu- 
minata tells of her friend's kindness, industry, obedience, 
prayerfulness, and other qualities, she relates no inci- 
dents which indicate that Caterina had any sense of fun. 
On the other hand, she does dwell on what we may call 
her Puritan seriousness, which refused to take delight in 
arts or crafts for their own sake. " During the day," 
says lUurainata, " she was never seen to stand idle for a 
moment, because she held time so precious that she did 
not want to spend an ounce of it without profit, saying : 
How great is human blindness ! For time is given us 
as the greatest treasure we can possess, and we are so 
mad as not to consider that in its use lies our salvation 
or damnation." " And holidays and work-days she was 
never idle, having a cultured mind and skilful fingers. 
Yet would she never occupy her time with those things 
which seemed to her merely curious and vain, such as 
fine stitching or writing and ornamentation, saying that 
time given to such things was ill-spent. But she made 
an exception for the adornment of breviaries, saying 
that these should be used reverently, as one would use a 
chalice, out of respect to the holy words which minister 
to God's praise. But she did not like flowers and 
branches and borders even then, saying that they only 
served to dissipate the mind. And thus she wrote her 
own breviary with great simplicity " ; and often while 


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writing, carried away by the words she was transcribing, 
she would rise " with her eyes full of tears," and then 
"extending her arms she said the Pater Noster, and 
then began to write again." 

Caterina's ethical theories were in conflict with her 
aesthetic sensibilities. She had to excuse and explain 
to herself her persistent delight in music, painting, 
and literature ; and, thus with the peculiar mingling of 
humility and sublime presumption characteristic of the 
mystics of all creeds, she attributes her various accom- 
plishments to direct Divine inspiration. Sick unto death, 
she plays upon the viol, deaf to all other sounds, un- 
mindful of those around her ; but her melody, she 
declares, is but a repetition of strains heard in dreams 
of the celestial choir. She paints the Holy Child^ " for 
many places in the monastery of Ferrara and in little 
for the books " ; but she claims that her model was no 
earthly child but a reproduction of a vision granted to 
her one blessed Christmas night. She writes her spiritual 
instructions ; and in her preface she affirms that the 
"piccola operetta" is composed with the Divine aid 
and by Divine compulsion. 

The Seven Weapons, by reason of its style and 
scope, its mysticism and poetry, necessarily challenges 
comparison with the writings of S. Teresa. But as 
we should expect from its earlier date, the work of 
Caterina is slighter, fresher and more spontaneous than 
that of the Carmelite. The Northern Italian was less 
complex, less emotional, less intellectually powerful, but 
more original and robust than the famous Spaniard. 
Her mysticism had not the same Oriental tinge ; her 

' lUuminata's Specchio d' Illuminatione. 


reserve was greater ; and her autobiography, instead 
of being written deliberately and at the prompting of 
her spiritual advisers like that of Teresa, must be 
read between the lines of her instructions, which were 
penned in secret and seen by no one in her lifetime. 
She draws upon her personal experiences merely by 
way of illustration, warning or consolation, — fearing, as 
she solemnly declares, " The Divine reproval should 
I keep silence about that which might help others." 
She must needs deliver her testimony, and to do so is 
her single aim. Thus her confidences are singularly 
intimate, spontaneous, and sincere ; and, supplemented 
as they are by Illuminata's recollections, they make us 
extraordinarily well acquainted with the inner life of a 
fifteenth-century nun. 

But albeit The Seven Weapons is interesting to the 
modern reader chiefly as a human document, it is by no 
means despicable as a specimen of fifteenth-century 
Italian. Caterina's style is unstudied, but her natveti, 
her intense earnestness, and her vivid imagination some- 
times produce the effect of great art. Her sentences 
are occasionally as long as those of seventeenth- and 
eighteenth-century authors ; but their length is due 
not to verbosity, but to a kind of breathless eagerness or 
to complicated and sustained thought. Like S. Teresa 
she was something of a poetess, writing devotional 
sonnets and canticles ; while the distinguished Italian 
writer, Marco Minghetti, has remarked that her prose 
is always musical, and that her more ecstatic passages 
might be broken up into blank verse. He instances the 
opening of The Seven Weapons : — 

" In nome sia dell' Eterno Padre, e del suo Unigenito 


Figliuolo Cristo Gesu splendore di essa paterna gloria, 
per amore del quale con giubilo di cuore grido dicendo 
in verso le sue dilettissime Serve e Spose : 

"Ciascuna amante ch' ama il Signore venga alia danza 
cantando d' amore ; venga danzando tutta infiammata, 
sol bramando Colui che I'ha creata e dal pericoloso 
stato mondano 1' ha disseparata ponendola nel nobilis- 
simo claustro della santa Religione, acciocche in esso 
purgata da ogni macula di peccato, e vestendosi lo 
adornamento delle sante, e nobili virtudi, riformando la 
bellezza dell' anima, e riducendola al primo stato dell' 
innocenza acciocch^ essa dignamente possa entrare 
dopo questa peregrinazione nel glorioso talamo del suo 
castissimo e verginale Sposo Cristo Gesti." ^ 

Which passage — far more poetical in conception than 
the hymn quoted by most of her biographers and 
given in full in an Appendix — may be broken into lines 
thus : — 

Ciascuna atnante ch' ama il Signore 
Venga alia danza cantando d' amore ; 
Venga danzando, tutta infiammata 
Sol bramando Colui che 1' ha creata, 
£ dal stato mondano 1' ha disseparata, etc. 

' In the name of the Eternal Father, and of His only begotten Son 
Jesus Christ, the splendour of the paternal glory, for love of whom I cry 
with joyful heart to his dearly beloved handmaidens and brides, saying : 
Let every lover who loves the Lord come to the dance singing with love ; 
let her come dancing wholly inflamed, desiring Him alone who created her 
and separated her from the world's perilous state, putting her into the 
worshipful cloister of holy Religion, so that in it, purged from every spot 
of sin, and clothed with noble virtues and the adornment of the saints, 
renewing the beauty of the soul, and reducing it to its primal state 
of innocence, so that this pilgrimage ended, she may worthily enter into 
glorious union with her chaste and virginal spouse, Christ Jesus. 


Caterina's life at Court ended in May, 1427. On 
the twenty-seventh of that month Margherita took 
back to the Malatesta the lands Parisina had brought 
as dowry to the Marchese d'Este. She went, poor 
maiden of fifteen, to an unwilling bridegroom some 
eighteen months her senior, — the eldest natural son of 
Pandolfo, Lord of Rimini, Fano, Cesena, and Fossom^ 
brone, legitimated and put in the line of succession 
by Martin V, a pontiff who was particularly obliging 
in such matters. Galeotto Roberto had no desire for 
the greatness thrust upon him or for the bride chosen 
for him. He was sorrowful because he had great 
possessions ; he longed to leave all and follow Christ — 
in a way of his own choosing. He spent his days 
in prayer and meditation, fasted, wore a hair-shirt, 
slept on a table, and refused to live with his young 
wife till commanded to do so by his confessor. In 
vain the Pope censured his neglect of the duties of a 
ruler, and invited him to take up arms on behalf of the 
Holy See. Galeotto Roberto would not be troubled 
by politics or war. Like our own Edward the Con- 
fessor, he was a good monk spoiled by the force of 
ancestry and circumstance, and a bad ruler by reason 
of the preponderance of his religious instincts. Monkish 
historians represent Margherita as trying his patience 
by interfering with his devotions and displaying a 
worldly and ambitious temper ; but they never accuse 
her, neglected young wife as she was, of levity or indis- 
cretion. She may well have been irritated by her 
husband's neglect of his responsibilities, and, inheriting 
the Este capacity for affairs, may have taken on herself 
many of the burdens laid down by the "Beato Roberto." 


That the lot of the Lady of Rimini would have been 
made sweeter by the presence of her well-loved com- 
panion we cannot doubt ; but Caterina refused to 
accompany the bride to her new home. She had 
already chosen what she believed to be the better part. 
The death of Giovanni dei Vigri a few months previously 
had severed the strongest tie which bound her to the 
world ; and after Margherita's wedding she left the Court 
for the family house, on the site of which the chapel 
dedicated to S. Caterina dei Vigri now stands. There 
she dwelt with her mother for some months — probably 
till the widow's year of mourning had expired and 
Benvenuta contracted her second marriage with a citizen 
of Ferrara. 

It was assuredly not antipathy to a stepfather, or 
need of a home, which drove Caterina to the shelter of 
a convent. Friends sought her as companion to their 
daughters, suitors renewed their offers, relatives were 
anxious to arrange a marriage. But Caterina had made 
her choice. One would gladly have had from her own 
pen an account of the motives which determined it. 
Failing such direct information, we fall back on a 
reported speech given us by her friend : " When I left 
the world," — thus she spake to Illuminata, — "my sole 
object was to do the will of God and to love Him with 
a perfect love; and day and night I had no other desire 
nor thought save only to be able to love and to know 
God, and all my strength and study was directed to this 
end ; and I was willing to be despised of all the world, 
if only I might love God." 

That this is a positive and high aim no one will 
dispute ; whether it can be attained only or most per- 


fectly by renunciation of the world is of course another 
question, the answer to which depends {a) on the con- 
dition of the world at a given period ; {b) on the tem- 
perament and position of the given individual ; (c) on 
the relation of the one to the other. 

" Madame," said a distinguished English traveller to a 
distinguished Abbess, " you are here not from the love 
of virtue but from the fear of vice." 

Caterina, by her own showing, does not deserve the 
censure implied in this criticism. Yet even the negative 
aim indicated by the somewhat impertinent Englishman 
may in certain conditions of society be commendable, 
nay, perhaps heroic. Charles Kingsley, defending the 
hermits of the Thebaid, urged that where reformation 
is impossible, self-expatriation ceases to be cowardice ; 
and that the Roman civilization of the fourth century 
being irredeemably corrupt, men and women wishful to 
escape its taint were compelled to fly from infection. 
Civilized society in the fifteenth century was un- 
doubtedly healthier than in the fourth ; nevertheless the 
environment of Caterina's youth sufficiently indicates 
the low standards prevailing in the most cultured and 
enlightened circles of the day. The little girl was placed 
by tender and pious parents in a household of bastards 
— affectionately acknowledged by a prince who died 
the father of three hundred illegitimate children — and 
in surroundings where it was obvious she would have 
every opportunity of gathering material for her future 
generalization, that the crying vices of her time were 
" ambition, avarice, and that most abominable sin which 
is contrary to the virginal and chaste beauty of Christ." 

Over such surroundings, moreover, a woman had 


small influence unless she happened to be of exalted 
rank or the inmate of a convent. In the one case her 
example and her commands were of weight in her own 
circle, while through her husband she might contribute 
to the welfare of the nation ; in the other, her position 
was a protest against the sins of society, while, if she were 
of distinguished learning or sanctity, her advice might 
be sought and taken by the great ones of the earth. 
Between the cloister and the domestic hearth she must 
needs choose. There was no place in Caterina's wOrld 
for the unprotected, independent spinster; and if the 
cloister were cold, the hearth may well have seemed to 
her to be lit by a very fitful flame. Conjugal fidelity 
was rare ; conjugal happiness for the weaker partner at 
least was still rarer ; and Caterina was the petted only 
child of tender parents, a girl with keen susceptibilities, 
a loving heart, and attenuated passions. It is possible 
that as an honoured and beloved matron she would have 
shone in the society of Ferrara, a woman whose price 
is above rubies ; it is far more probable that as a 
neglected wife she would have covered her wounded 
pride in a mantle of moody piety. It is possible that 
sons and daughters would have called her blessed and 
extended her circle of righteous influence ; yet no 
children after the flesh could have needed her more or 
have been better loved than the novices she mothered 
with rare and wise tenderness. It is possible that in 
looking well to the ways of her house she might have 
found scope for her rich gifts of mind and heart ; but in 
no capacity could her tact and administrative talents 
have been more fully exercised than as abbess of a large 


Again, Caterina was a fragile, delicately organized, 
tenderly nurtured young woman in a world of robust 
passions, strong vitality, and scant sympathy with suffer- 
ing, where the weakly did not cumber the earth and 
only the fittest survived. Fasts and vigils were prob- 
ably less exhausting to nerves and digestion than the 
uncomfortable travelling, unwholesome banquets, and 
protracted revelry indulged in by the great ladies of 
her day ; while in the matter of discomfort — or what we 
consider such — there was little difference between the 
palace and the convent. The winter chill of the cells 
in the convent of Corpus Domini must have been less 
icy than that of the great sala in the unwarmed Castello. 
The nun's pallet was probably cleaner and more com- 
fortable than the silken-covered but ill-stuffed, ill-kept 
beds^ of the reigning family. In spite of her self- 
imposed austerities, Caterina probably lived longer in 
the convent than she would have done had she con- 
tinued in the Este Court. 

It was from this same Court that a generation later 
the grandson of Niccol6 Ill's physiqian fled to the 
Dominican convent at Bologna. Caterina, artistic, 
sensitive, fervid, taking herself and the world very 
seriously, capable of intense emotion, and of burning 
philanthropy, bears not a little resemblance in character 
to the great Florentine preacher of righteousness and 
judgment. She was, moreover, afflicted by the constant, 
wearing, bodily weakness which deprives its unfortunate 
possessor of the joie de vivre. She had not physically 
a particle of the buoyant vitality which enabled women 

' For information as to the beds of the Court of Ferrara see a 
pamphlet by H. Galandi, published Modena, 1889. 


of the type of Isabella d'Este to seize the beauty of 
their surroundings and be blind to the brutality. Can 
we doubt that in the great red palace-castle, which 
seems to symbolize the Este rule alike in its most 
splendid and its grimmest features, this little pale-faced, 
sober maid-of-honour was overwhelmed, like Girolamo 
Savonarola, by the thought of the inequality of society, 
by " the misery of the world and the iniquities of men ? " 



Donna piii su, mi disse, alia cui norma 
Nel vostro mondo giu si veste e vela 
Perche in fino al moiir si vegghi e dorma 
Con quello Sposo ch' ogni voto accetta 
Che caritate a suo piacer conforma. 

Dante, Paradiso, iii. 98. 

THE building in Ferrara which for twenty-four 
years was Caterina dei Vigri's home was not, 
when she first entered it, an enclosed nunnery. The 
house was the property and private residence of a 
certain pious widow, Bernardina Sedazzi. Her niece, 
Lucia Mascheroni, lived with her, and little by little 
aunt and niece gathered round them a society of devout 
women, who adopted the habit and the rule of the 
Pinzochere, or third order of Augustinians. 

Aunt and niece often discussed the possibility of 
converting their anomalous household into a regular 
convent under the Augustinian rule ; but Bernardina's 
funds were thought to be inadequate, there were various 
difficulties to overcome, and she at length died without 
carrying the project into effect. She bequeathed both 
her real and her personal property to Lucia, directing 
that it should be devoted to the purpose so dear to both 
their hearts. 



Lucia at once took steps to carry out her aunt's wish, 
but she found that the majority of her household was 
desirous that the new convent should be placed under 
a stricter rule. The ladies had been accustomed to 
frequent the Franciscan church (S. Spirito), and to look 
to the Frati for guidance and spiritual direction. What 
more natural than that the new foundation should be 
placed under the rule of the blessed Saint Clare? 

Lucia was carried away by these representations ; 
and the zealots of the community — among whom was 
Caterina — appeared to have gained their end, when 
resistance suddenly arose from an unexpected quarter. 
A certain Sister Ailisia, a self-seeking and ambitious 
woman, protested that Lucia Mascheroni was not free 
to do what she liked with her inheritance. Bernardina 
had intended to found an Augustinian house : Lucia, 
by placing the new convent under another rule, forfeited 
her right to the property, which consequently passed to 
those members of the community who were ready to 
obey the terms of their benefactor's bequest. 

Ailisia's obstruction was not restricted to remon- 
strance, nor even to the creation of dissension and bad 
feeling in the once harmonious community. Lucia, 
obliged to enlarge the house, was proposing to purchase 
a contiguous property. Ailisia, who had influential 
relatives, contrived to tamper with the owner and to 
stop the sale. She then brought her case before the 
civil tribunal of Ferrara, and judgment was given in 
her favour, the defendant being unheard. Lucia Mas- 
cheroni, with all the zealots, was ejected from her old 
home, and Sister Ailisia reigned in her stead. But the 
litigation and the bitterness of feeling awakened and 


revealed, caused so great a scandal in Ferrara that 
many parents called for their daughters and compelled 
them to return to their own homes. 

But if Ailisia had influence with the judge, Lucia 
was able to get hold of the Archbishop. A certain 
Madonna Verde, of the great family of the Pii da 
Carpi, was active in her behalf The case was trans- 
ferred to the Ecclesiastical Court. 

Lucia's defence was founded on the perfect harmony 
of mind and intuition which had always existed be- 
tween herself and the deceased. They wore the 
Augustinian habit, and in their plans for the future 
had never thought of any but the Augustinian rule. 
Had the desirability of a stricter life been suggested 
to Bernardina Sedazzi, she would undoubtedly have 
concurred with the idea. 

The Vicar of the Archbishop found that the spirit 
was more important than the letter. He reversed, 
doubtless with great satisfaction, the decision of the 
civil court ; and a papal bull was speedily obtained, 
sanctioning the foundation of the new convent and the 
adoption of the Franciscan rule. 

To adapt the old house to its new character as an 
enclosed nunnery was to make it for a while uninhabit- 
able. Alterations and enlargements necessitated a 
general exodus. 

The necessity filled Caterina with terror. She refused 
to go to her mother's house, and " with great sorrow " 
besought those who came to remove her that they 
would take her to a place where " she should not be 
obliged to see nor to speak with any one." She was, in 
fact, lodged in a convent in the city ; but at the earliest 


possible moment she returned to the old house, living in 
great discomfort and forwarding the building operations 
with her own hands. It was at this time that she 
sustained a painful and lasting injury to the spine, 
being crushed against a wall by a heavy cart filled with 

She was now assailed by an unexpected tempta- 
tion which she describes as follows in The Seven 
Weapons ^ : — 

" After some days as it pleased the Divine Providence 
she returned to that Place with five others of those 
sisters who were there from the first : and the re- 
building of the Monastery went on well. But some 
time elapsed before it was possible to be locked in 
and cloistered, so that people came to visit the place and 
entered therein. Whereupon the Enemy attacked her, 
and instigated certain persons of great state according 
to the world who in secret besought her to consent to go 
and stay in their house as companion to one of their 
daughters left alone ; (d' una lor figliuola dismissa) saying 
that were it necessary to obtain the licence of the Pope 
or of any other person, she need not doubt but that all 
and more than she desired for the welfare of soul or 
body should be duly looked to. To which promises 
she consented not, but she stood firm and constant 
in the aforesaid place, in perfect faith that she should 
yet be cloistered (si serreria in clausura) under the rule 
of Saint Clare, and so it came to pass." 

' She always writes of herself in The Seven Weapons in the third 



Now who were these " great persons " who so ardently 
desired Caterina's company, who were so confident of 
obtaining the Pope's approbation of her return to the 
world, and whose appeal came to her as a real and in- 
sidious temptation? 

A careful observation of the wording of Caterina's 
narrative and a comparison of dates seem to furnish 
an answer to the enigma. We find that Caterina was 
professed and cloistered under the rule of Saint Clare in 
the year 1432 ; that early in the same year Galeotto 
Roberto Malatesta had given up his futile attempts at 
government and had retired into a monastery ; and that 
in the preceding year the Marchese Niccolo had married 
for a third time. Margherita, dismissa, dismissed, aban- 
doned by her husband, at once returned to her father's 
house, where the presence of a new stepmother, Ricciarda 
da Saluzzo, accounts for Caterina's plural forms — ^"in 
casa lorol' " d' una lor figliuola," " alcune persone." 

A proposal that she should take up her abode with 
strangers, however great their "state according to the 
world," would have had no attraction for a woman of 
Caterina's temperament, while her warm affections and 
helpful instincts, starved and repressed in her present 
life, would have yearned towards her lonely friend, and 
inclined her heart to the appeal of her father's sovereign 
and benefactor. Margherita's peculiar and unexpected 
position might well have been interpreted as a real 
" call " ; and since Caterina must have anticipated that 
her gentle pious mistress, a widow in fact, yet not free 
to wed again, would lead a life of great retirement — as 
indeed proved the case — she might have argued with 
perfect sincerity that in resuming her former duties she 


might, like Constance, mother of the Emperor Frederick, 
retain " the veil of the heart." 

Whether this hypothesis concerning the identity of 
Caterina's friends be correct or not, it is certain that in 
the eyes of her contemporaries her return to the world 
would have been justified by the late upheaval in the 
community and the fact that she was not yet " obbligata 
a religione." It is also certain that her refusal to do so 
was an act not of cowardice, but of splendid courage. 

The autobiographical passages scattered through 
The Seven Arms show that the period of her irregular 
noviciate was one of acute misery. Parental indulgence 
and ^ strong will, physical' unfitness, and the lack of 
tenderness and wisdom on the part of her superiors, 
combined to make the initial steps in the religious life 
peculiarly painful and difficult to her ; so that in after 
years she declared that were she bidden to choose 
between immediate decapitation and a return to the 
" mortal sadness " of those first five years she would 
unhesitatingly accept the former alternative. Words 
such as these reveal the strength of the temptation in- 
volved in the invitation of her mysterious friends, and 
give us the measure of her valour in rejecting it. To 
accept it would have been to make the " great refusal," 
to proclaim despair in the Father's power and love, to 
confess herself beaten, to lay down once for all the 
"seven arms." 

Another passage in her book gives us by implication 
further information as to her state of mind at this period. 
We see the reason of her agitation at the enforced 
exodus of the nuns, of her refusal to return to her 
mother's house, of her request to be kept secluded, of 


her furious longing to be shut in by bolts and bars and 
bound by the vows of a professed religious. The shadow 
of past struggles with her own affections, of old frantic 
desiring to go free, lies across her exhortation to her 

" No sooner are they within the monastery than they 
repent of that which they desired with so much ardour, 
and were it not for very shame they would turn back, 
that is, go forth. Which thing happens chiefly to those 
destined to bear great fruit in the way of God ; for not 
only does it seem to them that they have not found 
God as they hoped, but they fear that they are deprived 
of Him and of all favour and devotion ; for before 
their entrance they desired with great fervour for God's 
love to abandon relatives and friends ; and now the 
enemy tempts them to contrary feelings, giving them 
such tender memories of the same that waking and 
sleeping they can think of nothing else . . . and devo- 
tion becoming utterly insipid to them they fall into 
great sadness, saying : Truly I was better before I came 
here, and better I served God, and with more devotion 
than I do now : and thus the specious enemy tempts 
them to turn back. But the bride of Christ must in no 
wise consent to such deception : with hasty and resolute 
spirit she must constrain her free will, and say to herself 
even if my Lord permit me to be tempted always, 
even to the end of my life, I will not yield : and having 
made this resolution she will fall to prayer with all 
possible fervour, saying with heart and mouth : My 
dearest Lord Jesus Christ, by that infinite and un- 
speakable love which bound thee to the post of scourg- 
ing, and made thee bear for my sake the cruel and 



bitter smiting of thy foes, give me, I beseech thee, 
strength that through thy grace I may have victory 
over my enemies, and may endure with patience this 
and every other conflict which thou mayest assign me." 

To confess defeat may be courage and prudence on 
the part of those who are capable of taking up a new 
and more defensible position. But Caterina recognized 
no rampart against sin save the religious life, and to 
evacuate it was to yield herself a captive to the Enemy 
of Souls. Compromise was to her a loss of knightly 
honour and therefore of self-respect. She brought to 
the spiritual combat the temper and standards of 
chivalry, and bore herself always as preu chevalier, 
without fear and without reproach. It is easy to say 
her ideals were false : it is difficult to see how she 
could have deliberately deviated from them without 
degradation of character. 

So, practising first what she preached long afterwards, 
she stood to her post, and that even when tempted to 
leave it by another and far more insidious suggestion. 
This conflict also is described in The Seven ^rms : — 

"In the beginning of her conversion, when she had 
lived some years in the present Place, she began to 
taste the sweet savour of divine love in prayer, and 
for that reason was seized with a great desire to go 
forth into a desert and solitary place ; and considering 
that she could well do this, because this Place was not 
yet made into a convent (il Luogo non era obbligato 
a religione), the desire grew strongly on her." 

Did Caterina, we wonder, know how one of her 
heroes, S. Bernardino of Siena, was once seized by, 
and yielded to, a similar desire, and how and why the 


experiment failed ? The incident is related by himself 
with such inimitable humour that with an apology for 
digression it must be given here. 

"One day I was seized with a desire to live as an 
angel, not as a man." Can we not see the twinkle in 
the Prate's eyes as he scans his audience after pro- 
nouncing these words ? " Well, God bless you, listen 
and see what happened. The idea came to me to 
live on herbs and water, and I made up my mind to 
betake myself to the wood. Then I began to ask 
myself : And what wilt thou do in a wood ? what wilt 
thou eat? Then I answered: 'What did the holy 
hermits do ? I shall eat grass when I am hungry, and 
when I am thirsty I shall drink water.' . . . Then I 
went seeking a place wherein to establish myself, and 
I thought I would go as far as Massa.' And as I passed 
through the valley of Boccheggiano, first at this hill 
and then at that I said : ' I shall do well here. No, 
there I shall do better still.' At last, not to enter into 
details, I returned to Siena, and decided to begin to try 
there the life I wished to lead. And I went down 
outside the gate of Fallonica and began to gather a 
salad of grass and sow-thistles ; and I had no salt nor 
bread nor oil. I began, just for once, to wash and 
scrape it ; but next time I meant to scrape it only, 
and when I was more accustomed to such fare, I should 
give that up too. And in the name of Christ I began 
with a bit of sow-thistle. I put it in my mouth and 
began to chew, chew, chew, chew. But unable to 
swallow it, I said: 'Well, I will drink a draught of 
water.' But the water wouldn't go down either and 
' The village near Siena where Fra Bernardino was born. 


the thistles remained in my mouth. I tried several 
draughts of water, but still I couldn't swallow that bit 
of thistle. 

" Do you guess what I am going to tell you ? I wish 
to say that with a mouthful of thistle I vanquished that 

Caterina vanquished hers by other means. Had she 
ever considered the subject of a hermit'^ diet her 
woman's culinary instincts would probably have pre- 
served her from the Frate's errors ; but this aspect of 
the recluse's life does not seem to have occupied her 
thoughts. She took herself and the world very 
seriously, and that she could greatly admire a character 
so unlike her own as that of Bernardino is a proof not 
of her power to appreciate his humour, but of the 
sensible Christian charity which made her, when 
Abbess, constantly remind her children that the in- 
dividuality of each sister was to be respected ; that 
there was ^ no one mould of holiness, that quot homines 
tot sancti. 

But let us return to her narrative concerning her 
decision against a hermit's life. 

"Somewhat fearful and distrustful of herself, she 
sought to know the divine pleasure; wherefore she began 
to make great and almost continual prayer, beseeching 
the Divine Majesty day and night to show her how 
she ought to act. 

^ She used to instance the difference between S. Arsenius and "the 
great Anthony," the former always lachrymose, the latter invariably gay 
and cheerful. "If these two men," she argued, "had such diverse views 
and sentiments, why should I be scandalized when I see my neighbours 
taking another path than that which appears best to me?" (lUuminata 
Bembo and Father Grassetti. ) 


" And having for many days made prayer with great 
anxiety and diligence, it came to pass one morning 
when she was praying in the Church of the present 
Place about the hour of terce, that it pleased God to 
hear her. The Divine Mercy wholly revealed to her 
what she had asked. And among other things it was 
told that person that she should remain and dwell in 
the state and place to which God had called her. 
Therefore, in obedience to the divine revelation, she 
resolved to remain in the present Place, understanding 
clearly that this was the will of God." 

Why she felt it to be the will of God that she should 
continue to live in a community is manifested in an 
exhortatory passage based on this experience. She is 
addressing her novices : — 

" As soon as the Devil sees that the Religious person 
begins to taste the sweetness of the divine love in prayer 
he at once inspires her with a desire to go forth into a 
desert and solitary place, saying : ' Look now, thou wilt 
have more opportunity of tasting the sweetness of God 
and thou wilt be able to stay day and night in prayer 
as much as thou wouldst.' But be wary, my beloved 
sisters, and consider that this counsel and desire accords 
not with the true and most excellent counsel of Christ, 
who invites us not to follow after mental sweetness and 
comfort and the pleasing of our own will, but to take 
up the dear cross, saying, abneget semetipsum" 

Caterina's resolution not to quit " the present Place," 
either for the world or for the desert, is the more 
remarkable because the recent discussions in the com- 
munity, and Sister Ailisia's conduct, must have destroyed 
many of her girlish illusions, and opened her eyes to the 


worst possibilities of convent life. Her narrative and 
the exhortation which springs out of it reveal her grit 
and independence, and the peculiar mingling of mystic- 
ism and shrewdness in her character. Life in a religious 
community, she argues, is a continual crucifixion of 
self, a continual renunciation of personal affections and 
desires ; therefore it is a more real following of Christ 
and the precepts of Saint Francis ^ than is the peaceful 
egotism of the anchorite or hermit. Self-deception, 
sentimental egotism, weak self-pleasing are impossible 
and abhorrent to her candid, combative nature. She 
does not prate of her emotions and desires, nor, as we 
shall see later, of her visions. She does not seek advice 
from all her friends, nor does she ask her spiritual 
superiors to save her from the burden of decision. She 
believes implicitly in the power of the Holy Spirit to 
enlighten her judgment, and she patiently awaits the 
Divine revelation. 

The same temper appears in her account of the 
reasons which induced her to modify some of her 
original practices. She had "given herself to the service 
of God with a good conscience," " studying to take for 
herself every virtue that she had seen or heard of in 
others, and this not for envy, but to please God in 
whom she had placed all her love." And then the first 
flush of girlish enthusiasm had faded, and the inevitable 
reaction had taken place. The longed-for leisure for 
religious exercises seemed a disappointing benefit. 
Meditation, which had been so sweet when the time for 

' "II padre nostro S. Francesco," she says, " diceva che piuttosto 
voleva un Frate che fosse passato per via di tentazione che di dolcezze, e 
consolazioni, cioe di mentali sentimenti." 


it was snatched from worldly occupations, lost its savour. 
Fervour in prayer was in inverse proportion to freedom 
from interruption. Worst of all, attendance at the 
Mass, once a precious privilege, became a tedious 

This "spiritual dryness" was undoubtedly in large 
measure due to the physical unfitness of a girl in her 
teens for convent life. The substitution of asceticism, 
confinement, and monotony for the sunlight, freedom, 
and ample nourishment needful for the perfection of 
budding womanhood was a defiance of Nature's laws 
which brought its own punishment. Caterina became 
depressed, hysterical, nervous, and irritable. The slight- 
est reproof made her miserable. "Virtues which she 
used to practise with industry and fervour now seemed 
impossible." Her weakness was so great that she could 
not pray or even hear the office without great difficulty 
and effort. Sometimes she felt "as though she could 
hardly bear herself" (appena poteva supportare se me- 
desima) ; and, when alone, she wept so incessantly that 
in after years it seemed to her that her eyesight had 
been preserved by a miracle. She believed at this time 
that for a while she was given over to the power of the 
Evil One, who was permitted to try her by every sort of 
ambush and assault. But hand in hand with the vivid 
imagination which continually materialized the spiritual 
combat went the shrewdness and independence of judg- 
ment which afterwards made Caterina da Bologna a 
great abbess. Thus — a proof surely of common sense 
rare in a medieval nun — we find her perceiving to some 
extent her physical wrong-doing, and this not in old- 
age retrospect, but during the midst of the " sturm und 


drang " of her unnatural girlhood. Understanding, she 
tells us, that her difficulties were partially the result of 
intemperance in religious exercises, she began " to take 
more rest, and did not continue to watch during the 
night; for so much was she used to prayer that she 
used to get up in her sleep and stand upright crosswise, 
that is with her arms extended ; and I doubt not but 
that the Enemy induced her to do this, in order that 
through too much prayer he might make her go mad." 

With this experience in her mind, Caterina warned 
her novices against this subtle device of their " invisible 
enemies," who, "finding that they cannot succeed in 
dragging the Religious person from well-doing, attempt 
to spur her forward with indiscreet practices beyond 
the common rule. Therefore, rejecting the weapon of 
discretion, in a little while she becomes weak, or falls 
seriously ill ; and thus she is constrained to give up 
the pursuit of prayer and of all other virtues. Where- 
fore being no longer able to exercise herself spiritually, 
she becomes chill, and, so to speak, unbearable to her- 
self; and God is deprived of worship and her com- 
panions of a good example." 

The same good sense is manifest in Caterina's dream 
or vision of the appearance and counsel of Saint Thomas 
of Canterbury. We do not know the reason of her 
peculiar devotion to the English Archbishop, or per- 
ceive his special fitness for the role of teacher in the 
principles of hygiene ; but it is certain that she followed 
his advice to the benefit of her spiritual and bodily 
health ; and in her breviary she appended the following 
note to his office : — 

" Oratio pro Sancte Thoma meo gloriosissimo Martyre 


tam benignissimo qui manus suas sanctissimas ostendit 
mihi et osculatus sum illas dulciter in corde et corpore 
meo. Ad laudem Dei scripsi et narravi hoc cum omni 

The occurrence was on this wise: Caterina had for a 
long while been much tormented by drowsiness — an 
effort of nature, had she but known it, to heal her tired 
brain and strained nerves. She struggled helplessly 
against it, till one evening she actually fell asleep as she 
knelt beside the table in her cell. Presently she became 
conscious of a figure in full pontificals, whom, with a 
dreamer's intuition, she instantly recognized to be her 
"glorious martyr." He made a sign to her that she 
should watch and imitate him. Whereupon he put 
himself in an attitude of prayer, then lay down and 
seemed to sleep, then rose again and resumed his devo- 
tions. After that he drew near to her, holding out his 
hand. Caterina thought that she opened her eyes and 
awoke from sleep, but that the figure of the Archbishop, 
instead of disappearing like the shadow of a dream, 
continued to stand solidly before her with outstretched 
hand. Caterina leaned towards him and eagerly kissed 
his hand, and then the vision faded before her eyes. 

" From henceforth," says one of her biographers, the 
Jesuit Father Giacomo Grassetti, "she used always to 
remain in prayer for some time after mattins, and then 
retire to rest, observing with all reverence the teaching 
of the Holy Bishop." 

This salutary apparition belongs to a somewhat later 
stage of Caterina's life as a religious. The three visions 
of her unhappy noviciate were regarded by her as the 
work of lying spirits, who, under the forms of Christ 


and His Blessed Mother, laid insidious snares for her 
soul. Her theory of their machinations is ingenious 
and complicated. " The Devil," she warns her novices, 
" sometimes puts good and holy thoughts into the mind 
to deceive it by the semblance of virtue, and then 
tempts strongly to the vice which is contrary to the 
same virtue. And this the Enemy does that he may 
drag the person into the abyss of despair." Wherefore 
she begs her novices that if they be visited by appari- 
tions, they should " try the spirits " before holding com- 
munication with them ; and by way of example she 
quotes, curiously enough, the attitude of Mary towards ' 
the Herald of the Incarnation : " Prendete 1' arma 
della Santa Scrittura, la quale manifesta il mode che la 
Madre di'Cristo quando le apparve 1' angelo Gabriello, 
tenne dicendo verso di lui : Qualis est ista salutatio ? " 

Weak and sleepless, and, as she herself perceived, 
perilously near to insanity, it seemed to Caterina that 
the Virgin Mother appeared and reproached her for 
lukewarmness, saying that if she renounced an evil love 
she should be given a pure love. Pondering distract- 
edly over this enigmatical saying, it seemed to her that 
an " evil love " could in her case mean nothing but love 
of self, manifested in self-will and self-indulgence. A 
growing girl, with the craving for rest and nourishment 
consequent on growth, she began to find in her own 
instincts and desires a confirmation of her fears, while 
weariness and nervous irritability caused her to per- 
form her duties ill, and made her companions accuse 
her of negligence and sloth. 

"The Enemy put into her heart that she was sen- 
sual," she says ; and the phrase again reveals her com- 


mon sense struggling with conventual temptations of a 
kind unknown to men and women, married or single, 
leading healthy and virtuous lives in the world ; " and 
this he suggested not alone to her, but also to persons 
with whom she was associated, so that she endured 
much inconvenience and reproach ; and this was all the 
comfort and support offered to her in her many woes. 
And her suffering continually increasing, her mind 
nearly gave way ; for within and without were battles." 

The severest battle was with her own self-will, and this 
difficulty in the matter of submission to her superiors 
perplexed and distressed her greatly. For her keen 
intelligence perceived that obedience was the foundation 
of virtue and order in a community, the root whence 
sprang that spirit of entire resignation to the will of 
God, that nichilitade, which she viewed as the perfect 
flower of monastic virtue. 

But while her intellect recognized the beauty and 
importance of obedience, she could not refrain from 
" mentally grumbling at and criticizing almost every- 
thing said or done by her superior." She invariably 
confessed these rebellious feelings to the Mother, and 
" at least she received strength not to give way to them 
entirely, though violently drawn to do so." But the 
continual fret and conflict wore out her nerves and ex- 
hausted her spiritual forces. 

Her vision of the Crucified, or rather as she afterwards 
believed, of the diabolic semblance of Christ, was the 
outcome of this conflict ; and the extraordinary dream- 
dialogue she records is interesting as a revelation of the 
struggle continually proceeding in her mind. Entering 
the church one morning to pray, she thought the figure 


of Our Lord, with arms extended as upon the cross, 
confronted her, and addressed her as follows : — 

" ' Thief, why hast thou robbed me ? Give me that 
which thou hast taken from me.' Then she, with great 
reverence and fear, made answer, saying : ' My Lord, 
what is this thou sayest ? for I have nothing of my own, 
and am poor and as naught in thy sight, and am in this 
world subject to others, so that I have nothing.' And 
he made answer, saying : ' I would have thee know thou 
art not so poor as thou sayest, and that thou hast some- 
thing of thine own ; for I made thee in my likeness and 
similitude, giving thee memory, intellect, and will, and 
the vow of obedience which thou madest, thou madest 
it to me, and now thou takest it away from me ; there- 
fore, I say unto thee thou art a thief.' And she, under- 
standing that he said this on account of the disloyal 
thoughts which she had in her heart against her Superior, 
made answer, saying : ' Lord, what shall I do, seeing 
I possess not my own heart, nor can prevent the 
thoughts which enter it.' And he replied, saying : ' Do 
as I tell thee : take thy will, thy memory, thy intellect, 
and see that thou use them only according to the will of 
the Superior.' But she said, ' How can I do this, for 
I cannot withhold my intellect from discerning, nor my 
memory from remembering.' He answered : ' Put thy 
will into her will, and make belief that hers is thine, 
and determine not to exercise the memory and intellect 
in any contrary way.' But she only said she could not 
do it, for she did not possess her own heart." 

These visions of Christ and his Mother not only did 
not help Caterina to practise obedience, but increased 
her disappointment at failure, so that " many times she 


would have despaired altogether had she not known that 
despair is the greatest of all sins." On the other hand 
they inspired her with presumption and conceit. She 
longed to speak of the favours vouchsafed to her to 
those who regarded her with suspicion and contempt, 
and with great difficulty she bridled her tongue. Reti- 
cence in respect to all her spiritual experiences was the 
outcome of victory over the temptation to boastfulness, 
and this, as she herself perceived, was not an unmixed 
good. " Let the subject manifest her temptations to her 
who bears rule," Caterina wrote long after to her novices ; 
"for the hidden wound cannot be dressed nor cured. 
And the more a thing seems good and safe, the more 
let her reveal it, that under the semblance of good 
she may not be deceived, as was the sister above- 
mentioned, to whom the Enemy appeared in the shape 
of Christ and his Mother." " By their fruits shalt thou 
know them " was the touchstone which Caterina gradu- 
ally learned to apply to all supernatural appearances. 
Those which left her calm and humble she accounted 
as the work of God. Those which produced presumption 
and despair she attributed to demoniacal machinations. 
Two anecdotes are related by Caterina's friend, Suor 
Illuminata, which go far to remove surprise at the girl's 
excessive reserve as well as at her difficulty in the matter 
of submission. On one occasion, we are told, she was 
bidden by her Superiors to jump into a large fire: she 
immediately sprang forward to obey, but found herself 
forcibly withheld. Another day she was actually com- 
manded to leave the house, and return naked to her 
mother's dwelling. She at once meekly began to divest 
herself of her garments, whereupon she was informed 


that the command was merely given to prove her 

These extravagant demands on her allegiance were 
possibly abnormal features in the life of the community, 
final tests of vocation imposed previous to Caterina's 
reception of the habit of Saint Clare. They mark 
none the less an arbitrary temper and a lack of discretion 
on the part of her Superiors which must have made 
themselves felt in the general government of the house. 
The only child of admiring parents, who never crossed 
her will even, in respect to her final settlement in life, 
a young lady of decided character, accustomed to lead 
and to rule, it was a foregone conclusion that Caterina 
dei Vigri would not find it easy to practise the virtue 
she loved in theory ; while the fact that she was intel- 
lectually the superior of her Superiors, and that, in spite 
of her youth, she surpassed them in knowledge of the 
world, naturally increased the difficulty of absolute sub- 
mission. Lucia Mascheroni was a holy and amiable 
person, and Caterina was much attached to "our first 
mother, who, according to the divine will, received me 
in this Place, and who was the first who showed me 
with pure love and maternal affection the way to serve 
God." She seems, however, to have been deficient in 
the gifts necessary for the government of a large com- 
munity. She had not herself been through the mill of 
conventual training ; her household had collected gradu- 
ally and was very loosely organized. Her conduct in 
respect of her aunt's legacy, together with Ailisia's 
rebellion, indicate vacillation of purpose and lack of 
dignity and strength. It is noteworthy too that she did 
not become Superior of her own foundation, nor did she 



doff the Augustinian habit. After a while, indeed, she 
resumed the life of pious but independent retirement to 
which she was accustomed, though she certainly had no 
quarrel with her successor, and at her death left the 
whole of her property to the convent. 

From various passages in The Seven Weapons we 
gain the impression that Caterina herself recognized 
that under wise guidance the misery of her irregular 
noviciate might have been averted. Her exhortations 
to her novices are interrupted by passionate appeals to 
those who shall be Abbesses in this place " that they 
diligently watch over the flocks committed to their care." 
They must not wait " till the poor lamb is actually in 
the wolf's jaws," but with true magnanimity of temper 
they must constantly bear in mind the weakness of the 
human soul and body. Aid given before it is asked for 
is sweet to the sufferer and pleasing to God, for "the 
thing asked for is half paid for." To those who are 
tempted to be disloyal and disobedient they should 
show not less but greater kindness, knowing that " the 
Enemy ever pricks the servant of Christ against the 
very virtue which he perceives she loves." Then again 
addressing her novices, she cheers them with the assur- 
ance that the submission of those who obey with diffi- 
culty, doing violence to their own opinion, their own 
will, their own intelligence and judgment, is not less 
but more precious and beneficial than the obedience of 
those who find the virtue easy. But, she adds, let the 
Superior be careful not to impose on her subjects "a 
burden greater than they can bear, so that good inten- 
tion, which God always requires from the soul, may 
always exceed the work accomplished." 


That inward eye 
Which is the bliss of solitude. — Wordsworth 

PROFESSED at twenty, Caterina was still very 
young when she became Mistress of the Novices. 
It is noteworthy that her own trials and perplexities 
faded away when confronted with new interests, occu- 
pations, and responsibilities. Her thoughts were no 
longer concentrated on her own spiritual life, but heart 
and soul, time, and wealth of tenderness were lavished 
without stint on "those newly entered on the field 
of spiritual battle." 

Lucia's successor, the Abbess Taddea, was the sister of 
the convent's friend and benefactress, Dama Verde de' Pii. 
She came from Mantua, and brought a colony of nuns 
with her. She was a clever organizer, and the convent 
under her rule rapidly increased in numbers and prestige. 
But she was a hard woman of tyrannical temper, care- 
less and unobservant of the physical well-being of her 
flock. Neither Caterina nor Illuminata allude to her 
with affection, and the latter tells us that the exclama- 
tion, " Oh that you were our Mother ! " was not in- 
frequently addressed to the Mistress of the Novices by 
some young nun who smarted from the Abbess's un- 
sympathetic correction. 



Such expressions were sternly repressed by Caterina, 
but were more than justified by her sisterly tenderness. 
She became, in truth, serva servarum, nor would she 
ever allow her novices to address her by any title mark- 
ing superiority. It was for their sakes, "fearing the 
Divine reproof should I conceal what might help 
others," that she composed, when she was about ^ five- 
and-twenty, the first draft of The Seven Weapons. 

The book was written with the utmost secrecy ; for 

to the shyness of the young author Caterina joined the 

humility of the saint, and she was fearful of posing as 

a teacher and displaying her superior education. But 

secrecy in a convent of Poor Clares was not easy to 

maintain. The long dormitory was divided into cubicles 

only by hangings of matting, and "according to the 

rule of the Blessed Francis the sisters had all things in 

common," no member of the community possessing 

even a box or desk where private possessions could be 

stored. A woman's ingenuity, however, is not easily 

baffled. Caterina's cubicle contained a large chair with 

leather-covered seat. Caterina unsewed the leather, 

laid her papers beneath it, and then tacked the cover 

down again. She repeated the process whenever she 

was moved, and found time, to write; and the book 

grew apace and was larger unfinished than that which 

she subsequently completed. But, alas ! one day when 

she entered her cell, Caterina found the covering 

of the chair unsewn. She looked for the MS. ; it was 

there, but in a different position from that in which she 

had left it. It had clearly been read. 

1 In her preface she says: " Al tempo della nostra Reverendissima 
Madre Abbadessa Suor Taddea Sorella che fii di Messer Marco de Pii, 
circa gli anni del nostro Signore Messer Gesii Cristo Mccccxxxviil." 


Whether a superior had played the spy or a sister 
had been overcome by curiosity, whether Caterina 
identified the culprit or feared, even silently, to formulate 
suspicion, are matters unrevealed by her biographers. 
But she was certainly filled with immense indignation, 
and acted with passionate promptness. In the division 
of manual labour, the oven of the convent was at this 
time her province. The oven happened to be hot. 
She took her precious papers and threw them in, and in 
bitterness of heart she stood and watched their slow 

Another and more cheerful incident is related in 
connexion with Caterina's duties as chief baker. On 
one occasion, when she had just put a batch of bread 
into the oven, the sisters were hurriedly collected to 
listen to a spiritual discourse from an ecclesiastic 
visiting the convent. The sermon lasted five hours ! 
At intervals the bakeress thought with anxiety of her 
bread, and the moment she was released she flew to 
the oven door. To the wonder of all, the bread, instead 
of being burnt to a cinder, was unhurt, and when eaten 
by the hungry nuns was pronounced to have a par- 
ticularly agreeable flavour. The circumstance was re- 
ported beyond the convent walls, and next day many 
persons made application for a fragment of the loaves, 
which they named, with Italian felicity of epithet, " the 
bread of obedience." 

Another pretty story with a similar moral is told in 
connexion with her term of office as portress. Her 
duties were fatiguing and occasioned perpetual calls 
from prayer and meditation ; but Caterina fulfilled them 


with alacrity, and like S. Francesca di Romana sub- 
mitted with joyfulness to interruption and petty trials 
of patience. 

One day an aged man in pilgrim's dress knocked at 
the convent gate. The portress opened and gave not 
only alms, but kindly looks and words. His visit was 
repeated, and Caterina questioned him concerning his 
travels. He told her of the scenes of the Saviour's life 
and death, and. assuredly no Desdemona ever listened 
to an amorous traveller's tales with greater eagerness 
than this cloistered nun listened to the aged pilgrim's 
stories of the Holy Land. 

One day he brought her a little bowl made of a 
substance she had never seen before. He told her he 
had brought it from the East, and that out of it the 
Virgin Mother used to give her Holy Child to drink, 
and he prayed the Sister-portress that she would keep 
it safe for him till he should come again to claim it. 
Doubtless the pilgrim "told the tale as 'twas told to 
him " ; doubtless too he meant the bowl jto be a gift, 
desiring to make some return for kindness and hesitating 
to presume. Caterina received both bowl and words 
with grateful and entire credulity ; and as the weeks 
slipped by a supposition stole into her mind which 
strengthened with the flight of time. The pilgrim 
came no more, and the nun believed that the object of 
her charity had been no ordinary man, " but possibly 
S. Joseph himself." " It is not known," says Grassetti 
naively, "what foundation she had for this belief, for 
she never spoke of it, but probably she had some 
special revelation." To-day in the convent of Corpus 
Domini in Ferrara, coated without with silver for its 


preservation, but within gleaming russet and satiny like 
a polished diestnut,^ the " Scodella di S. Giuseppe " 
is still offered to the sight and the kiss of devout 

Preaching what she conspicuously practised, Caterina 
never failed to exalt the gospel of work. She would 
sharply reprimand any novice who was heard complain- 
ing that appointed manual labours encroached on time 
which might be profitably spent on religious exercises, 
declaring that she herself had more joy in mental 
prayer while she sat spinning or otherwise working 
with the rest of the community than when she knelt 
alone in choir or cell. But while reproving indolence 
she was always ready to spare the weakly by taking on 
herself their burdens. Thus when she was baker, the 
heat of the oven tried her health and eyesight, but it 
was long before she could be induced to ask for a 
change of office. Some one must do the work, she 
argued, and " my sisters cannot stand such hard work 
as I can ; they are young " ; — " forgetting," says Illumi- 
nata, " that she herself was young." 

With similar unselfishness she strove to mitigate the 
severity of the rule to weakly and delicately nurtured 
novices. lUuminata relates with naive admiration the 
innocent subterfuges to which she resorted for this pur- 
pose. She would ask at head-quarters for a couple of 
eggs as supplement to the day's meagre rations, and 
would carry them to her place at the long refectory 
table. Watching her opportunity, she would slip the 

' In substance the " Scodella " resembles closely a set of cups exhibited 
in the Querini Stampaglia Palace, Venice. No one appears to have 
identified the wood of which these cups are made. 


eggs into a capacious pocket which she wore beneath 
her gown, at the same time drawing from it some 
empty egg-shells which she left ostentatiously on 
the table. Later in the day the eggs found their 
way into the hands and mouth of some half-starved 
novice. Sometimes too Caterina would ask for meat, 
ostensibly for herself, really for convalescents in the 
infirmary, "that they might have no cause for com- 
plaint." Such acts earned for her a reputation for 
greediness, and at every visitation she was accused of 
self-indulgence and reproved and punished accordingly. 
But she proved an incorrigible offender. 

She had a true woman's love and capacity for nursing 
and for "looking after" people, and kept a little medicine 
chest from which she dispensed medicines to any ailing 
sister. How much one wishes that Illuminata had 
given us a detailed inventory of its contents ! Caterina 
had numerous patients, for the course of two centuries 
had produced such deterioration in the hardihood of 
Italian women that the rule of the founders, after a 
fair trial, was felt to be insupportable. The daily fast 
and the lack of stockings were found particularly hard 
to tolerate, and sister after sister fell seriously ill. A 
petition was addressed to Eugenius IV, and in February, 
1446, the Poor Clares of Ferrara received the Papal 
permission to mitigate the severity of their rule. 

But if Caterina held that to labour is to pray, she 
declared still more emphatically that to pray is to labour, 
and that this labour is the chief duty and privilege of 
the religious. Constant intercession afforded a vent for 
her spirit of love and service, and fed its pure flame ; it 
kept her sympathies from shrinking and preserved the 


suppleness of her mind. Her horizon was never bounded 
by the convent walls ; the ties of blood and friendship 
were not forgotten ; and in spite of her strict seclusion 
she became through the power of prayer a citizen of 
the world. By means of this power, and by reason 
of the spiritual faculties developed in its exercise, she 
gained that clearness of insight, that certainty of 
intuition, that triumphant faith, which the vulgar are 
always apt to represent as gifts akin to magic. Thus, 
in the anecdotes told of her intercessions, she often 
appears in the disguise of a wonder-worker or sooth- 
sayer ; but the true proportions of the yearning tender 
figure cannot be obscured, while the wide range of her 
sympathies is strikingly illustrated. 

We begin, as is most natural, with two anecdotes 
telling of her prayer for blood-relations. 

Her mother, Benvenuta, as we have already seen, had 
married again. Of this marriage there were two 
children, — a son who in early manhood fell into vicious 
courses, and a daughter who when still a mere child 
entered the convent of Corpus Domini. This little 
sister and spiritual daughter was very dear to Caterina's 
heart. She was remarkable for her gentle piety and 
religious observance; and "having in a short time 
fulfilled a long time," she was the first to die in that 
community, passing hence only five years after the 
foundation of the new house, in the spring-time of 1437. 
With a sore heart and with deep fervour Caterina knelt 
by the death-bed and prayed for the departed soul ; and 
behold, as she prayed, there came to her the full and 
perfect assurance that little Suor Antonia was already 
received into the bliss of Paradise. 


Fifteen years later we find her in deep distress con- 
cerning the welfare of her ne'er-do-well stepbrother. 
Now she had a very special admiration for that great 
Franciscan, S. Bernardino of Siena, whose devotion to 
the name of Jesus particularly appealed to her, and 
when in May, 1451, the Frate was canonized, she 
took a keen interest in the event, pictured it to her- 
self, and prayed earnestly that the honour done to 
God's servant might redound to the glory of the Church. 
Prayer passed into ecstacy, in which time and space 
were vanquished. The cell in Ferrara was left behind, 
the ardent spirit had arrived in Rome. Caterina always 
believed that in some mysterious manner she actually 
assisted at the ceremony of canonization. 

Then there awoke in her a sentiment similar to that 
which Browning puts into the mouth of the innocent 
heroine of The Ring and the Book. There was now a new- 
made Saint in heaven, who was surely less weary and 
occupied than his older much-prayed-to brethren. She 
would address herself to S. Bernardino. Undoubtedly he 
would join his worthy intercessions with her unworthy 
ones, that the conversion of her wretched stepbrother 
might be obtained. We do not know when or how her 
wishes were fulfilled ; but the story ends happily with 
the contrition and amendment of the evil-doer. 

From kinsfolk we pass to benefactors and friends. 
Caterina was deeply grateful for the steady support 
given to the convent by the good Bishop of Ferrara, 
Giovanni da Tosignano, who before his appointment 
to the see had belonged to the Order of the Gesuati. 
On the 24th July, 1446, she was kneeling in the chapel 
about the hour of terce, when she suddenly rose to her 


feet, called one of the Sisters, and exclaimed that she 
saw the soul of the Bishop ascending up to heaven in 
the form of a radiant star. The nuns noted the time, 
and when a little later news of the Bishop's^ decease 
reached the convent, it was found that his death-hour 
corresponded exactly with that of Caterina's vision. 
Another anecdote of friendship is pleasing only as 
illustrating the continued affection between Caterina 
and her old companions. The "Principessa Margherita" 
had been for some years a widow, Galeotto Roberto 
dying soon after his longed-for retirement from the 
world. But a youthful widow had as little place in the 
scheme of fifteenth-century society as an unmarried 
maiden, and the girls of noble family were valued only 
as pawns in the game of matrimonial alliance. Duke 
Niccol6 happened to have an opportunity of placing to 
advantage the young woman so unexpectedly returned 
upon his hands, and did not think it needful to apprise 
her of his schemes till the envoys of the destined 
bridegroom arrived at Court to take home the bride. 
She was a dutiful daughter, bien Hev^e after the standard 
of the day, and endowed to boot with the Este political 
instinct and aptitude for diplomacy. Her brief married 
life had been very troublous, and she had no desire to 
make a second essay in matrimony. Yet she wished 
to oblige her father and perceived the seriousness of 
breaking off negotiations at so late a stage. In great 
agitation she hastened to the convent and poured the 
tale of her father's schemes and her own repugnance to 

' The " Diario Ferrarese" (Muratori, Vol. XXIV) informs us that the 
good Bishop made the poor of Ferrara his heirs, and that the hospital of 
Saint Anna had its origin in this bequest. 


them into Caterina's sympathetic ears. The nun pro- 
mised to pray for Divine help and guidance, and 
Margherita returned comforted. That night, while 
Caterina kept vigil in the convent chapel, the " Princi- 
pessa" slept peacefully in her bed, forgetful of her 
perplexities and of the morrow's journey. And behold, 
in a dream her husband, the Beato Roberto, appeared 
to her, in his Franciscan habit, and once again they 
plighted their troth ; and he told her that she, who had 
once been his wife after the flesh, was now and for ever- 
more his bride after the spirit ; that he asked no other 
dowry than her free consent, and that he would in no 
wise suffer her to be pursued by another. As the 
Beato Roberto had never shown anything but contempt 
for his bride in life, his post-mortem airs of proprietor- 
ship recall the traditional attitude of the dog in the 
manger. But Margherita received comfort from them, 
and knew in her dream that she was saved from the 
detested second marriage, and that this was Caterina's 

She awoke to receive the news of the death of the 
elected bridegroom, the " Personaggio grande" whose 
name is the chroniclers' secret ; and untouched by 
horror or uneasiness at this terrible mode of deliver- 
ance, she exhibited such " incredible satisfaction " that 
Duke Niccoli was moved to question her concerning 
her real feelings ; and understanding them, he promised 
to let her abide in widowhood and to molest her no 
further with a talk of suitors. 

By far the most striking and pathetic of these tales 
of intercession is one which recalls the relations of a 


more famous Caterina with the political prisoner of 

A wicked man of Ferrara, according to the cruel 
criminal code of the day, had been condemned to be 
burnt alive. We do not know his name, his life, or his 
offence, how Caterina heard of his sentence, or whether 
he had any claim on her interest beyond the hideous- 
ness of his sentence and his own impenitence. 

During the day preceding his execution, Caterina 
prayed incessantly for his conversion, and when evening 
fell she went to the Abbess and asked leave to spend 
the night in the church. The request was granted, and 
before the Blessed Sacrament Caterina continued her 
labour of intercession. The mattin-bell sounded. 
Caterina rose from her knees and slipped into the 
choir ; but when the office ended, instead of retiring to the 
dormitory, she resumed her post before the altar. The 
new day dawned, and still she remained upon her knees ; 
and, " Lord," she cried, " I will never rise from this 
place till Thou givest me this soul. It is thine, bought 
with a great price, even thy precious blood. Lord, deny 
not my unworthy prayers." 

Then it seemed to her that a voice came forth from 
the altar : " I can deny thee no longer, I will give thee 
this soul." 

Caterina was still upon her knees, no longer wrestling 
in prayer, but rapt in adoring expectancy, when there 
came a knock at the convent gate. The criminal had 
sent a messenger in hot haste to ask the prayers of Suor 
Caterina, and to beg that she would send him a con- 

The Dominican Tertiary, Caterina Benincasa, could 


accompany her penitent to the scaffold ; Caterlna dei 
Vigri, the true-hearted daughter of Saint Francis and 
Saint Clare, physically tied and bound by the " clau- 
sura," could only write a letter to the man for whom she 
had interceded with all the strength of her unshackled 
will. In the great crises of our lives the most eloquent 
of compositions is a poor substitute for the sound of a 
sweet voice, the sight of a sympathetic tear, the grasp 
of firm yet gentle hands. Yet even the letter of a true 
woman, especially if she happens to possess the pen of 
a ready writer and the calligraphy of an artist, may 
convey to a lonely man something of the strength and 
sweetness of her personality. Caterina's convert took 
courage when he read that letter, and went to his death 
like a hero. With the meek dignity of the real penitent 
he accepted as his due the vituperations of the crowd, 
asking those who railed on him to pardon his offences, 
and take warning by his life and fate. When bound to 
the stake, following Caterina's counsel, he called con- 
tinually on the name of Jesus, and in the strength of 
that Holy Name patiently endured his torments. 

But Caterina's range of sympathy, and therefore of 
intercession, was not determined by the city walls. She 
had the faculty, which so many women lack, of really 
caring about persons and events with whom she had no 
personal concern. Hence the following anecdote. 

On the Vigil of the Assumption, in the year 1443, 
some very serious news reached the convent of Corpus 
Domini. The civil war prevailing in Bologna was the 
opportunity of Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. 
He had a party within the walls. Luigi dal Verme, a 


valiant mercenary, was besieging it from without. It 
seemed as though Bologna would once again exchange 
the easy yoke of the Papacy for the heavy rule of the 

Caterina was deeply troubled at the news. The cruel 
outrages which would necessarily follow the taking of 
the city by a band of greedy mercenaries were present 
to her vivid imagination. With a sick heart she sought 
relief in fervent prayer. And as she prayed there 
came to her a conviction that the danger was passing, 
that Dal Verme would be defeated, and Annibale 
Bentivoglio would be his victor. A few days later all 
Ferrara learned that such had been the case.^ 

Seven years later, when Abbess in Bologna, Caterina 
foretold the downfall and expulsion of the family 
whose success in 1445 had caused her such keen joy, 
and whose ruin actually took place after her own 

Some two years after the Milanese defeat, we hear of 
another political vision. The siege of Constantinople 
was known to all Italy, and filled the Ferrarese nun 
with the greatest excitement and consternation. Once 
more we find her keeping fast and vigil, and making 
" particular prayer to God " that He would overrule for 
His people's good this episode of cruel strife. But as 
she prayed there came to her not this time relief, but 
the certainty that her supplications were useless, that 
the Turk was already in possession, that the Christian 
Empire in the East had fallen. She spoke unhesitat- 
ingly of her convictions, and they were only too soon 

' The decisive battle was fought on 14 August, 1445. 


But we have not yet taken the extreme measure of 
Caterina's intercessory energy. Her eschatological ideas 
may have been crude, but her faith and sympathy were 
highly matured, and it had never been suggested to this 
benighted nun that the efficacy of prayer ceases at the 
grave-side. " The Office of the Dead," says Illuminata 
Bembo, " was much more prolix in former days than it is 
now, so that many of the sisters found it very fatiguing 
to the brain." But on Caterina, even when she was ill 
and weary, the thought of aiding the souls in Purgatory 
acted as a tonic. " All my strength comes back," she 
would say, " so glad I am to be able to give them 

It is the intensity of this spirit of service and its 
limited outlet in the life of an enclosed community 
which gave rise, on the emotional side, to Caterina's 
astounding, and as it seems to us almost blasphemous, 
petition that she might serve as a scapegoat for the 
Divine vengeance. The intellectual elements in this 
desire are her strict sense of justice, and her feudal idea 
of the Atonement. 

The idea of substitution — of man forman, of one kind 
of service for another — was inherent in the feudal system, 
and even where, as in Italy, that system was but little 
developed, gave a peculiar tinge to the current con- 
ception of the sacrifice of Christ. Christ, as Caterina 
put it, " left his high Court and Barony and became a 
landless man — a pilgrim, a stranger, a beggar," in order 
that He might make compensation for the debt of 
reasonable service due from defaulting man to the 
Almighty Suzerain. Side by side with this conception 
of the Atonement went the thought of filling up that 


which is behind of the sufferings of Christ ; and the 
two ideas, blended in the mystic's mind by a glow of 
love towards God and towards His creatures, produced 
a ferment breeding fantastic forms of self- oblation, 
such as we meet with in the following passage from 
the Setie Arme: — 

" Many times have I prayed with tears and of 
deliberate intent that God would deign to grant me 
this special grace, that if my damnation could add to 
the honour of his Majesty He would be pleased to con- 
cede me this : — that in the bottom of the infernal abyss 
(if bottom it can be said to have) He would of his 
severest justice, form a yet more horrible and indescrib- 
able depth, where I as the greatest and most grievous 
sinner might be placed, — to expiate the guilt of all other 
sinners who were or are or shall be. And for this with 
hearty and deliberate will I continually offer myself, 
believing that the Head will receive more joy from a 
number of his members than from a single and rotten 
member. For clearly in the kingdom of our God, his 
praises would be greatly multiplied if to the great 
company of the Blessed (Collegio dei Beati) were joined 
the entire multitude of sinners; and the curse of a 
single soul would be less dishonouring to thee, my God, 
than that of a great multitude : albeit I am certain 
that to thy majesty, most high and incomprehensible 
God, no dishonour could be done. But if, O Lord, I, 
unworthy that I am, may not have this favour that 
through my damnation be multiplied an act of infinite 
praise and thanksgiving, since the honour of the height 
of thy Godhead cannot be increased ; at least most 
pitying Lord, grant me this, that by my damnation all 


sinners may be saved. . . . For this ceaselessly and 
submissively I offer myself to the Divine Justice, pray- 
ing that on me may be avenged the guilt of all other 
sinners, so that their salvations may not be refused for 
justice sake." ^ 

Caterina's conceptions of the working of Divine 
justice led her astray more than once. She relates — 
and the episode throws a strong side-light on her mental 
processes — that during the distressful period of her 
religious life, she was conscious one morning after 
mattins of a slight return of interest in her devotions. 
She had not experienced such a sentiment for many 
months, and, encouraged by it, she remained on her 
knees in the choir, when "in her heart was held a 
disputation, whereby it was shown that since God had 
enabled man and woman, through giving them the gift 
of freewill, to choose good or evil, He was obliged, in 
Justice, to reward them if they did good. And that the 
Apostle Paul for this reason said that a crown ^ of justice 
was laid up for him, because he had used his freewill in 
doing good, rejecting the evil which he was at liberty 
to do." 

'Did Caterina remember the petition of Moses? — "Oh, this people 
have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if 
thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of 
thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, 
Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book."— 
Exod. XXXI. 32, 33. 

Cp. too St. Paul: "For I could wish that myself were accursed from 
Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh : who are 
Israelites." — Romans ix. 3. 

^ Caterina's "diceva essergli riposta la corona della giustizia" is of 
course a version of the Vulgate, "In reliquo reposita est mihi corona 
justitiae" of 2 Timothy iv. 8. The "crown of righteousness" of the 
English version is to her a "just crown," a due reward. 


The idea took great hold on the poor depressed little 
nun, and the consolation it inspired made her believe 
that it came from God. But the following night she 
worked it out to its logical conclusion, and was horrified 
to discover whither it had led her. While saying 
mattins she was overcome with a deadly weariness of 
mind and body, and it then occurred to her that on 
account of the fatigue of the office, as well as the other 
hardships which she bore willingly, she ought to receive 
as the meed of justice (per debito di giustizia) a higher 
place than Christ, who knew no sin nor had any taint of 
vice, while she, who was at liberty to sin and was 
subject to sin, had nevertheless left the path of vice and 
sin to exercise herself in virtue. 

But she had hardly reached this conclusion before she 
recoiled in terror from it. An abyss seemed to open in 
front of her, and she perceived that the thought and 
the consolation of the preceding night were of the 
devil's sending (era missione diabolica). And forthwith 
she recognized that the debt was all upon the other 
side. For from God had come the gift of goodwill 
which had inclined her to a right choice. "And albeit 
we are at liberty to do good, yet are we none the less 
obliged as a just debt to do it ; and do it we cannot 
without the divine grace." Then seizing the "Second 
Weapon" of Propria Diffidema she resolved to re- 
member the words of Christ : " Sine me nihil potestis 

Thus Caterina dei Vigri in the fifteenth century 
reached the conclusion formulated by the English 
reformers of 157 1 in the Tenth Article : " Wherefore we 
have no power to do good works pleasant and accept- 


able to God without the grace of God by Christ pre- 
venting us, that we may have a good will, and working 
with us when we have that good will." 

It is noteworthy that Caterina's speculations on free- 
will never extend to the subject of predestination. She 
is unwavering in her belief that all men " start fair," and 
that the Father willeth not the death of a sinner. The 
hideous thought of reprobation, of " striving turned to 
sin," never darkened the gloom of her time of trial. 
Intellectual difficulties there were, especially doubts 
concerning the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, 
and the Eucharist. The wind of free inquiry, raised by 
Abelard, and laid by the Council of Sens, was beginning 
to stir again, and the woman bred in the Court of 
Ferrara clearly felt its influence even within the cloister 
walls. Not that Caterina could ever have been a 
sceptic in the modern sense, or an unbeliever after the 
pagan type of the later renaissance. Her doubts were 
invariably viewed as diabolical temptations ; they were 
limited by a strong bias ; they were feared less because 
she knew not whither they might lead her, than because 
they occasioned a loss of fervour and devotion. There 
is a touching passage in The Seven Weapons describing 
the agony of this loss. 

This "infernal penury," she declares, surpasses in bitter- 
ness all the sorrows which women in the world experi- 
ence from the death of those they love. For God and 
Paradise lie beyond the loss of present things ; but the 
religious person who has given God all her love, and 
has " left for Him not only friends and relatives and all 
created things but even her own self, must needs be 
filled with bitter grief if she be deprived of the sense 


of His love," for by reason of his infinity there is 
nothing above and beyond God in which she can take 

The nightmare of melancholy and doubt passed in 
due time, leaving the waker, however, with the conviction 
that it had been a necessary discipline for the " pilgrim 
soul." There came a day when communicating without 
faith or devotion, God " visited her mind," and she saw 
" in a flash how and in what way it was possible that in 
the Host consecrated by the priest there should be the 
whole divinity and humanity of our Lord." And seeing 
this, she perceived also that " the person who com- 
municates with difficulty, bearing spiritual strife with 
patience," "does not the less receive the grace of the 
Sacrament," and that it is well that a soul should learn 
not to value the sense of joy in worship above the 
Giver of that gift. 

It is characteristic of Caterina's combative and sturdy 
temperament that this conviction was not the result of 
tranquil retrospect from the vantage ground of higher 
things and advancing years, but formed part of that 
sudden illumination of intellect and spirit which marked 
an epoch in her life. At the moment when the mysteries 
of the Catholic religion seemed to grow luminous, when 
the woman's finite powers of apprehension stretched 
out towards infinity, when her intellect expanded to 
receive the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, 
and the Real Presence, and her whole being was filled 
with consolation ; — at that supreme moment she per- 
ceived the value of spiritual conflict and discomfort, and 
positively rejoiced in her past painful experience. 

If this rejoicing were characteristic of the individual, 


the speedy reinforcement of intellectual apprehension 
by sensuous perception was still more characteristic of 
her age and country. To the blissful moment in the 
church of Corpus Domini, when " all her doubts passed 
away as though they had never been," succeeded a 
morning when, " having received the Sacred Host in her 
mouth, she felt and tasted the sweetness of the most 
pure flesh of the immaculate Lamb Christ Jesus, and 
that taste was of so sweet a savour as she cannot 
describe or by any simile make understood. But truly 
she was able to say : Cor meum et caro mea exultaverunt 
in Deum vivum." 

Such a sensible manifestation of the substance be- 
neath the accidents has, of course, many a medieval 
parallel from the Lateran Council of 1059 onwards. It 
is hardly too much to say that a woman of Caterina's 
training and environment must have expected some 
material confirmation of these truths so recently, so 
vividly, so miraculously apprehended by the intellect. 
What is remarkable in her case is that the material 
manifestation is secondary and subsequent to the in- 
tellectual illumination. It is not the latter, but the 
former revelation on which she lays stress, and which 
makes a crisis in her spiritual life. Her mysticism is, 
as we have seen again and again, leavened by practical 
common sense, so that it never lays the will to sleep, 
and limited by intellectual activity. The typical mystic's 
" testimony of the individual soul " to the statements of 
the creeds, which suspends intellectual processes and 
makes intellectual action useless, is not sufficient to 
Caterina, and when the Lord 'visits her mind' he 
speaks to her intellectually." (Iddio visito la mente 


sua, e parlando intelletualmente con lei, diedele aperto 
conoscimento, etc.) 

The days of forced and apathetic communions were 
over, and Caterina's trouble was now her inability to 
receive the Blessed Sacrament as often as her heart 
desired. But this spiritual growing-pain passed in its 
turn as her soul increased in stature. One day as she 
assisted at Mass, hungry and repining, she was conscious 
to the full of the sweetness and reality of spiritual 
communion. (In quell' ora sentl veramente 1' anima 
sua comunicarsi dalla bont^ della divina provvidenza.) 

Yet the days when she received the Sacrament were 
the festas of her monotonous existence. She was 
apt to manifest her love of Holy Poverty by wearing 
the oldest, and we fear we must add, the dirtiest clothes 
of the community. But on the morning when she com- 
municated she donned a clean and fair habit and dressed 
herself carefully as one summoned into the presence of 
a king, thus by outward act expressing the reverence 
and alacrity of soul which breaks forth in passage after 
passage of The Seven Weapons. 

"Let no gentle spirit be so vile," she cries to her 
spiritual daughters, " as not to take Him who wills to 
come to you, seeing that with bounteous courtesy He 
feeds you generously with His Godhead. Hasten, O 
sinners, delay no more, for He is made your food that 
ye may take Him." She warns her novices not to be 
led by the Evil One under pretext of humility to 
abstain from communicating ; and she exhorts them 
to listen to the Epistle and Gospel ''with great and 
fervent love, as to new letters addressed to you by your 
Celestial Spouse." 


The return of fervour in Communion diffused a glow 
through all other ceremonies and devotions. When 
she was saying her office with radiant face and eyes up- 
lifted to the crucifix, Caterina was unmindful of all that 
passed around her, so that if afterwards in chapter a 
question arose about anything which had happened at 
such times, Suor Caterina had seen nothing, knew 
nothing. " It is not possible," she would say, " to dwell 
with the angels and occupy one's self in praise and yet 
have the heart on earth." 

Only the extremity of weakness and pain made her 
renounce attendance in the choir. From an early age 
to the close of her life, she suffered from a painful and 
little understood malady,^ and sometimes when the 
mattin-bell sounded " it seemed impossible," says Suor 
Illuminata, "that she could descend the stairs." But 
taking a mouthful of food and summoning her resolution, 
she generally managed to creep to the chapel, and once 
there, " though faint she managed to remain." Once, 
however, being particularly . weak, she begged the 
mother to dispense her from attendance at Mattins. 
Leave was given, and the Abbess added that it Wcis un- 
necessary to apply daily for dispensation, but that as 
long as the fever lasted she might remain in her cell. 
The attack proved unusually prolonged ; but there came 
a day when Caterina, though still weak and ill, dragged 
herself wearily from her cell to attend a chapter. The 
Abbess, as we have already seen, was a hard and 
arbitrary woman. Perhaps she had forgotten the scope 
of her permission : perhaps she thought that if Caterina 
were sufficiently recovered to attend the chapter she 
^ Haemorrhoids. 


ought to be able to be present at the offices in chapel : 
perhaps she eagerly embraced an opportunity of hum- 
bling a sister whose popularity she grudged. At all 
events, in presence of the whole chapter, " and this I 
heard with my own ears," says Illuminata, she addressed 
her as follows : — 

"Sister Caterina, it pleases me not that you should 
be exempt from the Office because a few days since I 
gave you leave of absence. I wish you to attend 
Mattins, and when you cannot, to make excuse, as do 
the others." 

Caterina was now one of the senior members of the 
community, her conscientiousness was approved, her 
devotion and also her sickness were known to all. She 
merely bowed her head, and said, " Mia colpa " ; but 
afterwards many of the nuns gathered round her, asking 
her indignantly why she did not protest against unjust 
reproof; — "Well, you are a Christian! Why did you 
not say you had fever and were ill?" But Caterina 
answered with gentle dignity — 

"My sisters, do you not see that the Holy Spirit 
spoke to me by the mouth of the mother? I under- 
stand that it is His will I should go to the Office : and I 
shall go believing that the strength of obedience will 
aid me, and the sweetness of the Divine Office. And I 
should esteem it a most solemn grace were I permitted 
to die within the choir singing for the love of obedience 
and of Christ." 

In spite of the supreme moment of illumination and 
the light which it cast over her entire subsequent 
spiritual life, Caterina was subject from time to time to 


the grey days and the spells of apathy which are the 
peculiar trial of fervent temperaments and delicate or- 
ganizations, and which, in her case, were usually suc- 
ceeded by reaction into ecstasy. One of these spells 
of coldness occurred towards the close of the year 1445. 
Her well-springs of delight seemed dried up or changed 
to sources of bitterness, and she wept perpetually from 
weariness and disappointment. 

The Eve of the Nativity had come, and she had no 
Christmas joy in her heart. From a sense of duty she 
asked leave of the Abbess to spend the night in church, 
when, upon her knees, she repeated the Hail Mary, in 
token of reverence for the Mother of the Lord. By 
degrees her coldness passed ; her normal mood of wor- 
ship returned, — a mood bordering on the line where its 
objects become visible or audible to the worshipper. 
A more than usually severe fast, a prolonged vigil, the 
eerie stillness of a night watch, and the line is passed. 

" About the fourth hour of the night " — thus runs 
Caterina's own account of the "marvellous grace 
vouchsafed to her" — "there appeared suddenly before 
her the glorious Virgin, and in her arms her dearest 
Son, swaddled after the fashion of newly born 
children. And drawing near to that Sister, courteously 
and with great benignity she laid Him in her arms, 
who perceiving by divine grace that the Babe was 
Very Son of the Eternal Father, embraced him closely 
(se lo strinse fra le bracci), laying her face on that 
of the dear Christ Child (dolcissimo bambino Cristo 
Gesu) with so much sweetness and delight that her 
whole being seemed dissolved as wax before a fire. And 
the sweetness of the odour exhaled by the pure flesh 




of the blessed Jesus no tongue can describe nor mind 
conceive, O heart insensate, hardest of all created 
things, which did not crumble away, or melt as snow 
before the sun, seeing, tasting, embracing the splendour 
of the paternal glory ! For this vision was no dream, nor 
imagination, neither did it come through mental ex- 
citement, but openly and manifestly without any phan- 
tasy. But yet it is true that as she bent her face above 
that of the Babe the vision suddenly faded, and she 
remained so joyful that it seemed to her as though her 
heart and all her members would rejoice for ever ; and 
the bitter sorrow which had so long afflicted her by 
reason of the absence of this same Jesus Christ left her 
so completely that for a long time melancholy could 
find no entrance to her heart." 

Later writers speak of the odour which lingered in 
the church and clung to the person of the Saint, awaken- 
ing the curiosity of the nuns and of the celebrating 
priest at the Mass on Christmas morning. They tell us 
too of the celestial joy and beauty of Caterina's aspect ; 
how the sunken eyes were lit and the sallow cheeks 
flushed by that love which is "a very flame of the 
Lord " ; how the lips which had kissed the Holy Child 
distilled a strange fragrance ; how the skin on jaw and 
chin which had touched the pure flesh of the Infant 
Christ had lost its olive tint and become white as milk. 
Caterina's own narrative has, however, no such sequences. 
Simple and practical as ever, her only aim is to draw 
out of her experience a heavenly moral. 

"The inexperienced soul thinks itself deprived of 
divine love when it finds that it no longer enjoys the 
mental sweetness to which it is accustomed and is 


deprived of the presence of the Humanity of Christ'^ 
(e sottratta la presenza della Umanit^ di Cristo). 
Nevertheless, at this time God in occult mystery is 
united to that soul in triumphant love. The proof 
whereof is found in grief's very presence, for the more 
the love the greater the grief. So the soul which 
laments because it feels not love, in fact possesses love 
and grief together : inasmuch as one does not grieve 
for that one does not love. But mean souls cannot 
understand this argument, because they love the gift 
more than the giver. . . . Therefore, dearest Sisters, 
be wise, and know how to bear with patience the 
departure of the divine love : and at such times brace 
yourselves to persistent prayer, and to other holy 
virtues and good works, till such time as it shall please 
the Divine Mercy to double the flame of pure and 
chaste love within your hearts. For God having proved 
the soul by leaving it widowed for a season, when He 
sees it constant and faithful in spite of indigence, will 
be impelled to console it and to give Himself to it 
again, yea more abundantly and inseparably." 

This episode in the life of Caterina dei Vigri, and the 
language in which she describes it, has its parallels in 
the lives of other saints and its counterparts in secular 
poetry and romance. We must remember that there 
are fashions in sanctity as in other things, recurring 
cycles of taste in subtle and intimate correspondence 
with the varying needs and tempers of mankind. We 
must remember also that the trances and visions, the 

' The italics are mine. The curious phrase seems to mean deprived of 
the sensible presence of Christ, just as the departure of a beloved person 
deprives us of the comfort of material contact with him. 


miracles and ecstasies of the medieval saint are not 
isolated phenomena, but translations into the sphere 
and language of religion of the ideal intensity of love 
manifested and described by Italian poets of the 
" spiritual school " from Guido Guinicelli onwards. 

A revelling in emotion, a cultivation of sensibility 
and of the faculty of personification, acuteness of 
physical sensation, and a tendency to reiterate certain 
picturesque phrases and experiences, these are the 
characteristics of the poetry and the religion of the 
epoch. The groans and tears of the recluse are echoed 
by the lover. The lamentations of the saint over 
" spiritual dryness " are couched in the same terms as 
the poet's complaints of the coldness of his mistress ; 
and a sensible return to favour, human or divine, is 
accompanied by overpowering emotion. The religious 
kneels in cell or choir, unconscious of all save the 
Divine Presence, and seeing with the spiritual eye 
forms invisible to natural sight ; and the youthful 
Dante in the vicinity of his Beloved is seized with 
trembling palpitation and faintness and can do naught 
but look upon " that most gracious being," all his senses 
being overpowered by the great lordship that love 
obtained. On the one hand we see the poets idealizing 
and etherealizing human love till it becomes super- 
sensuous, philosophic, far removed from the common- 
place realities of daily life ; on the other hand we find 
the mystics describing the relations of the soul to 
God in terms of earthly passion. We perceive, more- 
over, that this terminology helps to create and literally 
represents the feeling which it designates. When, for 
example, Caterina speaks of her chastity as that of the 


affianced bride, of the loss of a sense of devotion as 
widowhood, of her future bliss as marriage with the 
Heavenly Bridegroom, it is obvious that she is not 
using merely conventual figures of speech borrowed 
from the Apocalypse or the Song of Solomon, but is 
conveying to the reader with perfect accuracy the 
peculiar quality of her sentiments. The dreams of the 
Vita Nuova are as vivid and as pictorial as Caterina's 
highly coloured visions of the Last Judgment or the 
Court of Heaven ; while the effect of music, earthly or 
heavenly, is described in much the same terms by 
earthly and heavenly lovers. Saint Francis and Caterina 
feel their souls drawn forth from their bodies by the 
linked sweetness of an angelic chant, and declare that 
death would have followed the prolongation of that 
auditory joy ; and poet after poet is similarly affected 
by the singing of some fair and gentle dame.* 

And just as the phases of feeling pictured in the 
Vita Nuova have innumerable replicas of varying merit 
and degree in the lesser poets of the " New Style," so it 
may be doubted whether Caterina would have had her 
Christmas vision, if Saint Francis and Saint Anthony 
of Padua^ had not likewise held in their arms the Holy 

' As an example I select at random some lines from an unknown writer 
of the fourteenth century : — 

Ed ella pur cantava. 
Onde 1' anima mia, che ci6 sentia 
E che vedfa — in amor lo cor languire, 
Per gran paura pallida stridia, 
E se ne gia — lasciandomi finire. 
lo gridava merze, per non morire, 
Piangendo forte. Ed ella pur cantava. 

" Another Franciscan, Fra Salimbene of Parma, well known as a 
chronicler, had a very similar vision. 


Child. She was doubtless familiar with the story of 
these experiences ; they formed for her the high-water 
mark of divine favour. In spite of her humility, she 
must have felt that what had been might be again. 

Even had we not been expressly told that such was 
the case, it would have been a foregone conclusion that 
Caterina, like Saint Francis, desired greatly to appre- 
hend the bitterness of the Passion of the Lord Jesus. 
And once again we note that this desire sprang from a 
conviction shared by earthly lovers and expressed with 
equal fervour in the religious and secular literature of 
the time. Love is a " Lord of Terrible Aspect," ^ to 
whom due tribute must be paid. Love is a " Flame of 
the Lord," scorching those who approach it. The story 
of Cino da Pistoia and the hot coals may be made 
ridiculous ; it may also be received as a parable. 

The sufferings of Love are not merely willingly 
borne ; they are actually desired. And the thought of 
pain as the concomitant of intense bliss finds its 
culminating expression in the phenomenon of the 
stigmata. When we read the impassioned words in 
which Caterina describes her "Fourth Weapon," 
Memoria Passionis, and recollect that the Poverello's 
marvellous experience seems to have been more than 
once repeated, it is almost surprising to find that her 
intense desire to apprehend the suffering of Christ 
should be satisfied through the intellect and not 
through the flesh. 

As a revelation of the mystery of the Eucharist 
came to her primarily through the mind, and only 
secondarily through the senses, so it seemed to her that 

' Vita Nuova. 


Christ spoke to her intellectually (parlava intelletual- 
mente) concerning his sufferings for the salvation of 
the world ; and it is very noteworthy that in a resumd 
of this parlamento the physical pain of the crucifixion 
is passed over in few words, while stress is laid on the 
long agony of anticipation arising from foreknowledge, 
and especially from foreknowledge of man's ingratitude 
and the grief of the Virgin Mother. This is a remark- 
able conception at an epoch when the physical sufferings 
of Christ, of the martyrs, of the souls in Purgatory or 
in Hell, are set forth in literature and in art in the most 
brutal, crude, and realistic manner. 

The conditions of a life of which the one great work 
is intercession, and the sole reward celestial sweetness, 
must needs be complete release from secular interrup- 
tions, luxuries, and cares. Poverty and seclusion were 
essential to Caterina's ideals ; and accordingly we find 
her striving with all her might for the introduction of 
the strict clausura and the maintenance of Franciscan 

When she was professed, she gave an ample donation 
as her " dowry " to the house ; the rest of the large 
fortune inherited from her father she bestowed on the 
poor. The proposal made when she was mistress of 
the novices, by a party in the convent, that the com- 
munity should no longer be dependent on the daily 
alms, but should acquire landed property, filled her 
with indignation and dismay. She arose in chapter, 
and spoke her mind with a passionate and convincing 
eloquence which turned the scale in favour of Holy 
Poverty. No r^sum^ of her discourse can convey its 


flavour, and it therefore seems well to give a but slightly 
abridged translation. 

"Dearest Sisters, I marvel much how it is possible 
that among cloistered persons like those here present 
who profess to follow the standard of our seraphic father, 
Saint Francis, there should be souls so blind that they 
fail to recognize that this is most manifestly a tempta- 
tion of the Devil, who is a spirit of infidelity, and of 
inexcusable distrust of God. I should like those who 
are so prudent, according to the world, and who hold 
that our present mode of life cannot long continue, to 
tell me where they have learned such doctrine, and on 
what reasons it is founded. Who will cause such a 
thing to happen ? Will our Lord God, who has brought 
us together in this place, be unable or unmindful, or — 
as though he were sick of the trouble of governing us 
(fastidito dalla lunga molestia del governarci) — indis- 
posed to continue to provide for our needs ? Has He 
not many times praised and commended Poverty? 
Did He not say: 'Blessed are the poor'? And to 
another : ' Go sell what thou hast and give to the poor ; 
and when thou art become poor, come and follow me, 
and I will make thee to have treasure in Heaven'? 
Did He not say : ' Whosoever for my love shall leave 
father, mother, possessions, and everything else, shall 
receive a hundredfold in this world, and in the next the 
possession of the Kingdom of Heaven ' ? If He com- 
manded His disciples not to be careful for what they 
should eat or what they should drink, and to take no 
thought to procure clothes to cover the nakedness of 
their bodies, but to leave all care to the heavenly 
Father, who knew that they had need of these things. 


to strive only to acquire virtue, and to aspire to the 
Kingdom of Heaven ; who will be so impertinent as to 
dare to argue that He who faithfully promises, and 
who cannot lie, will fail to observe His own word ? For 
my own part, I do not know with what face a person 
can dare to call himself a Christian — Christ having 
said : ' Seek first the Kingdom of God and His 
righteousness ' and these other things shall be given you 
in addition, — who is not ashamed to say that a congre- 
gation of persons who have deliberately left the world 
and dedicated themselves to God's service cannot for 
long maintain themselves lacking provision for liveli- 
hood. Will that God who provides for the birds of the 
air, and who clothes and adorns the flowers of the field, 
be so improvident as to allow a household, formed for 
the honour of His Divine Majesty, to be injured for 
lack of sustenance? . . . 

" How many monasteries of men and of women, of 
our own Order and of others, have long persevered in 
this kind of life, and still do persevere ? What they 
can do why cannot we do likewise with the help of the 
divine grace? It seems to you that if this monastery 
had some estates (poderi) and possessions of its own, 
whence every year it might draw abundant rents, we 
should ensure the livelihood of ourselves and our distant 
successors. What foolishness is this to place more 
confidence in a few acres of ground (campi di terra) 
than in God's promises. And tell me : if this land 
should fail to produce its usual fruit, or if through war, 
famine, or tempest you should fail to receive the rent 
which you expect (which would be no new nor extra- 


ordinary thing in this world), what would you then be 
obliged to do ? You could do naught but appeal to 
the Divine Mercy that the hearts of the citizens might 
be moved to provide you with necessary sustenance. 
Now what hinders you from doing always what you 
could do in case of need ? . . . 

"Poverty spurs us to devotion, for it compels us 
always to have recourse to God that He may provide 
for us. Poverty removes from us occasions for disputes 
and dissensions such as are continually provoked by 
'Mine and Thine,' those cruel enemies of fraternal 
charity. Poverty creates detachment from the world 
and from the things of this life ; for nobody is greatly 
tempted to love that which he does not possess, but in 
truth it is very difficult to have no affection for the 
goods in which one is engulfed. Poverty multiplies our 
merits in this world and acquires for us inheritance in 
the Kingdom of Heaven. 

" Thus you may clearly perceive by what spirit those 
are guided who under pretext of providence and pru- 
dence go about disturbing the Sisters and filling the 
minds of the most simple with vain humours." 

Caterina's eloquence prevailed. The convent of 
Corpus Domini acquired no landed property. 

She got her way, too, with reference to the strict 
clausura, not this time by a single battle, but by 
steady gentle resistance and patient watching of oppor- 

Though Lucia's community had deliberately chosen 
the "strict observance," and though the first Abbess, 


Mother Taddea, was in many respects a rigid discipli- 
narian, there remained considerable freedom of inter- 
course between the inmates of the convent and their 
relatives in the city. "The citizens of Ferrara," says 
Grassetti, "would in no wise permit the house to be 
thoroughly locked up, because they wished to be able to 
go in and out at pleasure, and to visit their daughters," 
and they urged that " in all cases of distress and diffi- 
culty they found comfort in this intercourse." It is not 
suggested that any scandals arose out of this liberty, 
but to Caterina it seemed, as we moderns would say, 
the wrong thing. Herself a tender daughter, a good 
sister, a faithful friend, she believed that the nun's 
real use to her family and to society was in inverse 
proportion to her intercourse with them. By opening a 
door to gossip and tittle-tattle, the spiritual tone of the 
community was lowered, and time and energy were 
frittered away which should have been devoted to 

But till Mother Taddea died, after a reign of twenty 
years, Caterina's flame of reform consumed its own 
smoke. The vacant throne was her opportunity. She 
turned to Lucia Mascheroni, still a power in the affairs of 
the convent, and besought her to use her influence with 
the controlling Fathers and induce them to import an 
Abbess from a strict community. The facile Lucia 
assented ; but when she found that the Fathers had 
other views she assented with equal ease to these also. 
They had determined to choose the new Abbess from 
the senior members of the community, and of these 
none appeared more suitable than Suor Caterina her- 


Caterina was summoned before the Committee of 
Election, and the why and wherefore of the summons 
were unfolded. For a few moments she remained 
stupefied and speechless : then she burst into tears. 
Falling on her knees she besought the electors to spare 
her, to assign her any subordinate office, however toil- 
some, in the house, but not to lay on her the heavy 
burden of rule. The committee, probably embarrassed 
by her emotion, and perhaps convinced by it that she 
was indeed not suited to the task, listened to her en- 
treaties and considered her counter-proposals. In 
April, 1452, a bull was obtained from Pope Nicholas V, 
authorizing the transportation of an abbess and several 
sisters from the convent of Poor Clares in Mantua, to 
the end that the discipline and observance of the con- 
vent of Corpus Domini, in Ferrara, should be rendered 
more strict. 

Doubtless the task of the new Mother was not an 
easy one. We are told of some slight resistance from 
without ; we can conjecture some slight discontent 
within. But the infusion of new blood, enforced by the 
influence of Caterina and her friends, told in the end. 
The old easy coming and going of kinsfolk ceased. 
Henceforth the professed nun was seen only at stated 
hours behind the parlour grate. 

The four years (1452-6) which passed between the 
establishment of this new regime and Caterina's de- 
parture from Ferrara, were probably the happiest of 
her life. The struggles of youth lay behind her ; the 
responsibility of her last years was still unforeseen. 
Her ideal of conventual order was fulfilled, and she was 
at length in thorough sympathy with her Superior, 


Instead of humbling her in chapter, after the manner of 
tyrannical Mother Taddea, Mother Lenore continually 
asked the opinion and deferred to the advice of the 
gentle nun, whom, in the July of 1456, she enthusiasti- 
cally described to the Bolognese envoys as " a second 
St. Clare." 



Spirit nearing yon dark portal at the limit of thy human state, 
Fear not thou the hidden purpose of that Power which alone is great, 
Nor the myriad world, His shadow, nor the silent Opener of the gate. 


THE convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara had 
become fashionable. Ladies of high rank from 
distant parts were clamouring for admission and waiting 
disconsolately for vacancies ; till at length it occurred 
to certain leading citizens of Bologna and Cremona 
that the " venerabile monaster© " might be induced to 
colonize, and that plantations of Poor Clares might be 
established in their midst. 

The moving spirit in Bologna was a certain Battista 
Mezavacca, who had two daughters in the convent at 
Ferrara, and whose son was Provincial of the Observant 
Friars. The Third Order took up the matter, and 
resolved to furnish the colony with a home, and on the 
twentieth of July, 14S3, the prospective foundation was 
formally endowed with a house, church, cloister, campa- 
nile, and bell. But the Legate Cardinal Bessarion was 
a shrewd man, and foresaw the popularity of the house. 
He declared that the premises bestowed by the Third 
Order were far too limited, and induced the Girolamites 



of Fiesole to part with the church, cloister, and pos- 
sessions of S. Cristoforo delle Muratelle which belonged 
to them. The parochial cure was then transferred to 
one of the neighbouring churches, while the nuns' 
procurator purchased an adjacent house, court, stable, 
and well. In October, 1455, the Pope gave his formal 
approval to the scheme ; and in November, according 
to the Bolognese historian Ghirardacci, the Commune 
began the building operations necessary for the housing 
of a community, and the welding of two detached 
properties into an enclosed quadrangle. 

Nothing now was left but to select and bring home the 
" suore " ; and during the winter and spring months of 
1455-56, the dovecot in Ferrara was fluttered by the 
exciting knowledge that some among them would soon 
go forth to return no more. There seems to have been 
a consensus of opinion that Caterina should be one of 
the colonists, but the prospect of leaving the house 
which had been her home for so many years was 
excessively alarming and distasteful to her. Neverthe- 
less, resigned in all things to the Divine Will, she 
prayed earnestly for a clear revelation of God's purposes 
concerning her, and resolved to keep the Lenten fast 
with special devotion and austerity. 

But the result of an exclusive diet of "pancotto" — 
bread soaked in water and beaten to a pulp — seasoned 
with mental agitation, was a complete failure of physical 
strength. Caterina was compelled to keep her bed, and 
the nuns began to doubt whether she would ever leave 
it. Bodily weakness, however, did but increase the 
activity of her mind. She meditated constantly and 
with fresh fervour on the mystery of the Passion of 


her .Saviour, and prayed without ceasing for a direct 
manifestation of His Holy Will. 

But when an answer to her prayers came she did not 
at first recognize it as such. She dreamed a dream in 
which she saw two stately seats adorned as for some 
great persons. " For whom are these prepared ? " she 
asked. And the reply was made that they were for 
two Sisters, and that the more honourable was for Suor 
Caterina da Bologna. 

She woke with a clear remembrance but no under- 
standing of the vision, — a fact which the good folk of 
Ferrara, when they claimed her for their own, dwelt on 
with justifiable satisfaction. Caterina was a common 
baptismal name; the "cognome" of Vigri was Ferrarese; 
Caterina da Bologna was as yet non-existent. 

The colonizing nuns were more fortunate than most 
of the brides of the period, whose splendid nuptials 
were usually arranged for mid-winter, and whose 
journeys were therefore fraught with extreme hardship 
and peril. It was on a burning summer's day, July 20th, 
1456, that a little company of grave gentlemen and 
religious presented themselves before the doors of the 
convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara and demanded 
speech with the Reverend Mother. There was the 
Vicar-General of the Strict Observants with the Minister 
of the Province of Bologna, who came of the great 
Fantuzzi house. There was Battista Mezavacca, Doctor 
of Law, who had been so active in founding the new 
convent and who was doubtless eager to see his two 
cloistered daughters; and there were besides many 
representatives of honourable Bolognese families, whose 


names, says Father Grassetti, " are lost by reason of his 
defect who recorded these things with small accuracy." 

The veiled Abbess, Mother Leonardo of the great 
family of the Ordelafi of Forli, duly received the com- 
pany, who presented the bull of Pope Callixtus III., 
and prayed her to give them a ruler for their new 
foundation. She answered, as has already been related, 
that she would give them a second Saint Clare, a true 
disciple of the Blessed Saint Francis. The ambassa- 
dors -withdrew and a chapter was convened. In that 
chapter Caterina dei Vigri was unanimously chosen 
as leader of the colonising nuns and Abbess of the 
Bolognese house. 

The decision of the chapter was reported to the 
expectant Provincial : he inquired as to the family and 
past history of the abbess-elect, and hearing with great 
satisfaction that she was born in the city to which she 
was about to migrate, he ordered that she should hence- 
forth formally describe herself as Caterina da Bologna. 

Caterina's vision was now clear to her, but her sorrow 
at leaving Ferrara was doubled. Reluctance and pro- 
testations of unworthiness form the approved attitude 
of the religious appointed to high office; but in 
Caterina's case they were certainly genuine and spon- 
taneous. She had always shown herself conspicuously 
devoid of ambition and of that restless desire for 
authority so strong in many able women ; and she was 
at this period in such feeble health that many of her 
friends doubted whether she could even bear the com- 
paratively slight fatigue of the journey to Bologna. It 
was made as easy and comfortable as possible. The start 
was arranged to take place at midnight in order that the 


nuns might be sheltered from the heat of the July sun 
and from the gaze of curious folk, and a litter was pre- 
pared in which the invalid could be carried the few 
yards down the lane to the main road where the coach 
of the " Principessa Margherita " ^ was to be in waiting. 
Caterina was hardly conscious of these preparations 
for her comfort, or of the moment when she crossed 
the threshold of the house she had entered in her 
long-past youth. She was completely overcome with 
the emotions of the leave-taking; and when her friends 
lifted the senseless form into the coach, they congratu- 
lated themselves on being provided with a consecrated 

But the cool night air, the ministrations of her 
beloved friend Margherita, the unaccustomed novelty 
of the situation, worked what seemed to her com- 
panions a miracle. Colour came back to the ghastly 
face, strength to the powerless limbs, and when the 
lumbering vehicle came to difficult places in the deeply- 
rutted fifteenth-century road, Caterina descended with 
the rest and walked gaily forwards. Whereat the 
hearts of her escort were filled with comfort, for they 
felt that she was evidently called and chosen for the 
work of God in Bologna. 

Before long the jolting coach-road was exchanged for 
the smooth and easy water-way, which formed the most 
expeditious route from Ferrara to Bologna, in spite 
of the " interruptions of the sluices, inventions to raise 

' Margherita must have been visiting her relatives in Ferrara or have 
come expressly to bid her friend farewell, for since 1449 she had been 
living at the Court of Sigismondo Pandolfo, her brother-in-law. She died 
in Rimini in 1475. 


the water for the use of mills and to fill the artificial 
canalls," which were bitterly complained of by the 
English traveller, Evelyn, when, two centuries later, he 
made the journey in inverse direction. Caterina, journey- 
ing in high summer, was not, like Evelyn, '' so pestered 
with these flying glowworms called luccioli, that one 
who had never heard of them would think the country 
full of sparks of fire." Nevertheless, used to long vigils 
and stirred by strange emotions, she did not sleep. She 
indited some necessary letters and conversed a little 
with her escort ; but for the most part, with her cloak 
wrapped closely round her ^ and raised above her black 
veil, she sat silent. Who can tell the thoughts and 
emotions of those hours of darkness and dawn ? How 
suddenly the current of her life had been diverted into 
a new and untried channel ! With what celerity she 
had been hurried from the place which had been her 
home for nearly thirty years ! How speedily the 
Bolognese envoys had executed their long-prepared 
measure ! And now she must look forwards rather than 
backwards. Moment by moment the stream and fate 
were bearing her away from the old estate of subjection 
towards the new estate of authority. Yet in the act 
they gave her a breathing space, a time when she might 
possess her soul and rally her physical and spiritual 
forces. She had leisure to steep her spirit in the elixir 
of the summer night, whose scents and sounds came to 
her laden with forgotten memories, stirring sensations 

' Father Grassetti says: "Then Caterina from humility placed the 
cloak over the black veil, and was at once imitated by all the company ; 
and from thence began the custom of the Mothers of the Corpus Christi of 
Bologna to wear the cloak over the black veil, which custom they have not 
in Ferrara, where the black veil covers the cloak on the shoulders." 


which were new and old, while the great open spaces 
of the plains spoke strongly to one who had long been 
imprisoned within narrow walls. 

Dawn found the woman who had left Ferrara 
trembling, weeping, scarcely conscious, strong, calm, 
and alert, ready to bear with meekness and dignity the 
burdens and the honours laid upon her. 

They were considerable. The moment the election 
of the Chapter was announced the envoys had dispatched 
a messenger to the Senate, informing the citizens of 
Bologna that they had obtained for Abbess " that Suor 
Caterina who had held in her arms the Infant Jesus." 
The story of the nun's Christmas vision was widely 
known, and the good folk of Bologna were inclined to 
be " in all things too superstitious." They required no 
further testimonials, and determined to give the person 
thus distinguished a welcome after their own hearts, 
being, both then and always, " a people most courteous, 
liberal, and magnificently generous in such external 
demonstrations of compliment." 

The days were very evil. Sante Bentivoglio was 
sufficiently powerful to hang his foes, but not powerful 
enough to have undisputed sway. Family feuds were 
embittered and complicated by enmity between the 
aristocracy and people, and, as Grassetti naively remarks, 
the authority of the Holy See was not " an adequate 
, remedy for these dissensions, nor that of the legates, 
who had not at that time absolute dominion." But for 
the moment anarchy and dissension ceased, and enemies 
united to give a welcome to the holy women who were 
coming to them in the name of the Lord. 

Thus it came to pass that when Caterina and her 


companions reached Corticella, where the navigable 
channel ended, they found awaiting them upon the 
bank, lit by the glow of sunrise, a company of Bolognese 
matrons with their attendant knights, who had ridden 
forth three miles to meet them. The nuns were greeted 
with as much respect as though they had been princesses, 
and with Margherita d'Este — who was determined not 
to leave her friend till she saw her safely housed — were 
conducted to chariots, in which they proceeded towards 
the city. But before they reached it, they were met by 
another train of welcomers — the Legate, the wise 
Greek, Cardinal Bessarion, with the Bishop of Bologna, 
Cardinal Calandrino, brother of Pope Niccol6 V, 
accompanied by the sixteen senators and the chief 
clergy and officers of the city, and followed by a jubilant 
crowd in festal temper and array, were waiting without 
the Porta Galliera. By this procession the nuns were 
conducted to the temporary abode prepared for them 
by the charity of certain members of the Third Order 
of S. Francis. Italian workmen in the fifteenth century 
were not unlike their descendants in the twentieth ; and 
the new house, contrary to all hopes and expectations, 
was not ready for its inmates. Caterina and her com- 
panions were therefore lodged in the dwelling which 
had originally been oifered for their use — the little 
hostel and church of Saint Anthony of Padua in the 
Via d' Aziglio. 

For the remainder of the day they were left in peace; 
but before taking food or rest they proceeded to the 
church, and there gave thanks to the Giver of all good 
for the kindly welcome accorded to them, beseeching 
a blessing on their benefactors and on their new home. 


They were not allowed at once to resume their 
habitual routine. The two Cardinals decreed that for 
three days the Abbess should " receive," in order that all 
the principal persons of the city should have the oppor- 
tunity of making acquaintance with the Sisters. This 
was an eminently prudent measure, as Father Grassetti 
points out ; for the community was dependent on the 
charity of the faithful, who being " incredibly edified by 
these ladies' rare modesty and truly religious mode of 
life," went away with quickened generosity and loosened 
purse-strings. The Abbess's gracious bearing and gentle 
dignity, her courtesy, her capacity, her ready and per- 
suasive speech, were extolled by all. In spite of long 
years of retirement, silence, and self-effacement, her 
inherited instincts, her early training, her old habits, 
asserted themselves. During her three days' reception, 
Caterina dei Vigri showed herself endowed with all the 
social gifts which distinguished the great ladies of the 

The Abbess prudently decreed that no novices should 
be admitted during the intense heat of the Bolognese 
summer, and for five weeks the little company tranquilly 
endured the August sun, and enjoyed a halcyon period 
of undisturbed intercourse and freedom from responsi- 
bility. For they were all tried persons and old friends, 
sure of themselves and each other, broken in to conven- 
tual life, knowing their duties and earnest in fulfilling 

First and foremost among them was the noble 
Venetian lady, Illuminata Bembo, whose Specchio 
d' Illuminatione is the " Urquelle " of every life of the 


" Santa." She had been with Caterina in Lucia Mas- 
cheroni's semi- religious community, and when others 
doubted her vocation, believing that a fine^ lady used to 
Venetian luxury, gaiety, and culture would soon weary 
of so hard, narrow, and restricted a life, Caterina had 
always strengthened her resolution and prognosticated 
her perseverance. In 1433 the two friends took the 
Franciscan habit, and their loving companionship was 
close and unbroken till "the day Caterina died, and 
Illuminata discovered, with that pang of sweet remorse 
which so often rends the true friend and lover, that 
after all she had never appreciated the lost blessing : 
" Alas, a thousand times alas ! " is her exceeding 
bitter cry, " that such was my blindness, I did not know 
the greatness and sublimity of this most excellent 

The next two senior nuns were Suor Giovanna of the 
Lambertini of Bologna, and Suor Anna Morandi, a 
widow, of Ravenna, both of whom had entered the 
convent in Ferrara a few months after its foundation. 

Then there were Doctor Battista Mezavacca's two 
daughters, — Paola, a tall, fine woman whom Caterina 
had chosen to be mistress of the future novices, and 
Gabriella, who entered religion eight years later, and in 
a manner which, pace Father Grassetti, seems to us 
somewhat reprehensible. Mezavacca, a pious, learned, 
wealthy, and much -respected Bolognese citizen, had 
a large family of sons and daughters, who, as soon as 
they grew to manhood and womanhood, one after 
another renounced the cares and perils and pleasures of 
the world and embraced a monastic life. Gabriella, the 
youngest, at length found herself alone. She was her 


father's pet and housekeeper, and would surely be the 
prop and stay of his old age and the mother of his 
heirs. He did not guess that her young gaze was 
already turning from the glare and colour of the world 
towards the peaceful greyness of the cloister, and pious 
man as he was, the girl felt intuitively that he would 
not let her go without a struggle. She had not the 
moral courage to endure it, and determined to escape 
it and to effect her purpose by a ruse. Feigning a great 
desire to see her sister Paola, she set out for Ferrara 
arrayed in her best clothes, and accompanied by a gay 
party of friends and relatives. When they reached the 
convent she asked them to leave her for a while as she 
wished to talk alone with her sister. The natural 
request was readily granted. But when the party 
called at the convent doors a few hours later, Gabriella 
came to the grating in the habit of a " Clarissa," and 
bade her companions go back to her father and tell him 
she should return no more. Mezavacca nearly died 
of grief at the intelligence ; but wonderful and pleasing 
to relate, he bore no malice against his daughter in 
particular, or the religious orders in general. He was 
foremost in promoting the foundation of the new 
convent in Bologna, his zeal being perhaps inspired by 
the hope of bringing his children back to their own 

Another pair of Bolognese sisters were Suor Ber- 
nardina and Suor Anastasia Calcina. The former was 
married, but had agreed to separate from her husband 
that both might " enter religion." Suore Eugenia 
and Pacifica Barbieri, kinswomen, were also Bolognese, 
as was Suor Pellegrina dei Leonori. Suore Samari- 


tana, Modesta, and Innocenzia were Ferrarese; while 
a certain . lachrymose Suor Andrea was from Cremona. 
Then there were two lay Sisters and one Terzina, or 
member of the Third Order — even Bernardina, Caterina's 
mother, who, a widow for the second time, had latterly 
devoted herself to serving the house in Ferrara, and now 
gladly accompanied her daughter to their native city. 

On the 2 1st September this little band of colonists 
received its first new recruits. Six young ladies of 
Bologna were admitted as novices. 

The Abbess was now eager to move into permanent 
quarters before the approach of winter. She constantly 
besought the procurators of the monastery to hasten 
forward the work, and fervently prayed to God that He 
would dispose the hearts of the citizens towards the 
convent and its inmates. And her importunity pre- 
vailed and her prayers were answered. Funds came in 
steadily ; building went on apace ; and at length one 
November night the nuns were transferred from the 
Hostel of Saint Anthony to the Abbey of Saint 
Christopher, which was henceforward known as the 
Convent of Corpus Domini. 

In her first Chapter Caterina sounded the predominant 
notes of her rule. In it she proposed five measures, 
which had been matured with much consideration and 
earnest prayer, and which were unanimously accepted 
by her devoted company. First, it was ordained that 
the ancient custom of having all things in common 
should be faithfully observed ; and further that the 
community should hold no property other than their 
dwelling-place, and should subsist wholly on the daily 
alms of the citizens. 


Secondly, the clausura was to be observed with the 
same strictness as at Ferrara. Not only might no 
nun go out, but no outsider might come in, albeit guests 
were at that time tolerated in many other well-ordered 
and reputable convents. Furthermore, to distourage 
intercourse between the nuns and curious visitors, it 
was decreed that the gratings in the parlour should be 
covered with thin black linen, Caterina rightly believing 
that the worldly ladies whose conversation was most 
likely to be perilous and unsettling to her flock, would 
not long care to converse with persons who could 
neither see nor be seen. 

While in her first law Caterina maintained the 
Franciscan principles of poverty, in her third she 
imitated the Franciscan practice of gratitude. The 
Senate had exempted the convent from dazio, so that 
gifts from the surrounding country reached it duty 
free. It had also made ogni anno in ptrpetuo a liberal 
grant of salt ; while the citizens in general had liberally 
contributed towards the fund for building and mainten- 
ance. Caterina, therefore, mindful of the example of 
S. Francis, who had annually presented a basket of fish 
to the Benedictines to whom he owed the church of 
Santa Maria degli Angeli, ordained that the convent 
should every year present a corporal to the cathedral 
of Bologna in token of perpetual gratitude for the 
hospitality of the city. 

The fourth regulation related to costume. "As a 
public sign of modesty and humility," as well as to 
avoid "abuses and opportunities of vanity such as 
exist in certain convents by reason of the elegance and 
coquettishness of veils and collars," it was ordained, 


that in the choir, when called to parley at the gate, and 
when receiving tRe Bishop or other prelates, the nuns 
of the monastery of Corpus Domini should always wear 
the cloak above the black veil, after the fashion set by 
Caterina herself during the journey from Ferrara. 

The fifth and last regulation passed in Caterina's first 
Chapter declared that there should never be prisons in 
the convent, because she " trusted that by God's mercy 
no faults should be committed in that holy house 
deserving so rigorous a punishment." 

The first few months after the move were busy and 
difficult ones for the Abbess. To " get into a new 
house" was not indeed to a fifteenth-century family, 
still less to a company of religipus, quite the serious 
undertaking that it is to a modern householder. But 
Bologna, then as now, was notorious for its winter snow, 
and a half-finished building, then as now, was cold and 
uncomfortable ; while if the nuns' wants were few their 
means of supplying them were fewer, dependent as 
they were on the alms of the faithful with whom they 
had little direct communication. Hardships were cheer- 
fully endured, for Caterina inspired all her " daughters " 
with her own pluck and esprit de corps, but the health 
of the community suffered. The infirmary was soon 
full, and the Abbess, though untiring in her efforts, 
found it difficult to provide for the necessities of the 
sick. But the presence of certain physicians is as 
remedial as their prescriptions, and Caterina's per- 
sonality and skill and devotion as a nurse largely 
atoned for her lack of material resources. The first 
thing in the morning and the last thing at night she 


visited her sick. She was, besides, always present during 
the doctor's visits, after which she would retire a while 
to the church, there " to take counsel with her heavenly 
spouse," from whence she would return serene and 
reassuring to the infirmary. And to some, Grassetti 
quaintly says, " she spoke words of so great consolation 
that they were perfectly conformed to God's will," and 
to others she applied the prescribed remedies with a 
success quite unlooked for by the physicians themselves, 
so that before long she sent them whole and rejoicing 
to the church to give thanks for recovery to God. To 
the power of the Great Physician, flowing through the 
channel of the medical science of the day, Caterina con- 
stantly and unwaveringly attributed these cures. But 
in vain ; for on the one hand her assertion was a half- 
truth, and the sick rightly perceived that their recovery 
was due to their nurse rather than to their doctor, and 
on the other the ignorant always more readily believe 
in occult and magical power than in the truly super- 
natural effects of faith, sympathy, and self-forgetful 
love. Little by little an atmosphere of enthusiasm and 
credulity was created. Miracles were expected of the 
strong and tender woman who lived spiritually and in- 
tellectually on a higher plane than the majority of her 
companions. Miracles were expected — and therefore 
miracles happened. 

Three are specially recorded, and are worth narrating 
as examples of the Abbess's dealings with her " beloved 
daughters," and of the way in which they were inter- 
preted and misinterpreted. 

First in order of time comes the healing of Lucia 
Codagnelli, one of the first six novices admitted in 


Bologna. To her, in the distribution of offices, was 
assigned the care of the garden. She was apparently 
absent-minded or unskilful, for one day, when engaged 
in digging, she sent the spade or hoe with such force 
into her own foot as nearly to sever it from the ankle. 
Her screams of pain and terror speedily drew her com- 
panions to the spot, where she lay upon the ground 
bleeding copiously. They were fifteenth-century nuns, 
and had not attended ambulance classes. They were, 
moreover, Italian women, emotional, sensitive to suffer- 
ing, and easily thrown off their balance. " Not know- 
ing what to do," says Grassetti, "they betook themselves 
to weeping, the common remedy of women and chil- 

Then Caterina appeared, self-possessed, self-reliant ; 
and the storm of hysterical emotion at once subsided. 
She had, as we have already seen, the instincts of a 
nurse. From her girlhood she had delighted to serve 
the sick, schooling herself against disgust and nausea, 
and ardently performing all distasteful offices. The 
sight of blood did not therefore alarm or distress her 
now. She knelt by the sufferer, and addressed her 
with gentle, reassuring playfulness : " Sister Lucia, wilt 
thou make me a present of this foot ? " 

Then, making the sign of the cross over the wounded 
limb, she took the poor leg in her left hand, and with 
her right drew the half-severed foot into place. The 
limb instantly became whole as before. Whereupon 
Caterina said, smiling — 

" I entrust this foot to you. Sister Lucia, on condition 
that, as it belongs to me, you will for the future use it 
well, taking care that you do it no harm whatever." 


Lucia wept again, and promised to do as she was bid ; 
the nuns were " incredibly edified," and soon all the city 
knew that a very notable miracle had been worked by 
the holy Abbess of the new convent. 

It is noteworthy that there is no mention of this 
" miracle " in the " Mirror " of Illuminata Bembo. Yet 
the story is so natural and circumstantial it seems 
reasonable to suppose that the accident and the cure 
actually took place. To bring them into line with one 
of the famous miracles of Saint Anthony of Padua — 
whose life was, of course, familiar to all members and 
friends of the Franciscan Order — it was only necessary 
to be blind to such unsightly details as bandages and 
unguents, and to compress into a single moment a 
process which, it is likely enough, was remarkably 
short, the nun being a spare liver, a worker in the 
open air, and an implicit believer in Caterina's skill. 

The second miraculous story is of a novice "much 
worried by the Devil in various disguises, so that she 
was reduced to despair by reason of most vehement 
temptations, occasioned by the rebellion of the flesh 
against the decrees of the spirit." Prayer and morti- 
fication seemed to avail nothing; nay, the more she 
used these weapons the more increased the diabolical 

At length the tortured and despairing woman went 
to the Mother Abbess and made a clean breast of her 
pitiful condition. And the Abbess "smiled a little." 
She was neither shocked nor horrified ; but with a 
cheerful face said quietly — 

" Will you do at once what I tell you ? " 


" I will do anything I can and at once," cried the un- 
happy novice. Then said the Abbess — 

" Go, take up the book you see there, and on the first 
page at which you open you will find the remedy for 
ydur distress." 

The nun obeyed, and instantly was comforted and 
reassured ; nor from that time onwards was she troubled 
by the old temptations. 

By a very slight twist the narrators of this incident 
endow the Abbess with something of a magician's 
power and convert the written page into a kind of spell. 
Yet the story is in reality simple and matter-of-fact, 
disappointing in that it omits the name of the book, 
and interesting only as illustrative of Caterina's tact, 
discrimination, and common sense. The girl had strung 
herself up to a high pitch of emotion ; so Caterina 
spoke little. She was taking herself too seriously ; so 
Caterina treated her with bracing cheerfulness. After 
the manner of young persons, she thought that her 
difficulties were unprecedented and unique ; so Caterina 
pointed her to a passage which had aided other earnest 
souls, a passage so often read that the book opened of 
itself at the marked or well-worn page. 

The last of these miraculous histories is a detailed 
narrative of the first death which took place in the 

Sister Samaritana Superbi was a Ferrarese, and was 
one of the fifteen nuns whom Caterina brought from 
Ferrara. She was noted for her fervent devotion to the 
rule and unwavering spirit of submission, and towards 
the close of her life was able to declare with all humility 


that she had never consciously sinned in respect to 
obedience. Soon after her arrival in Bologna her health 
began to decline, and three years later her case was 
pronounced hopeless. Finally symptoms of an extra- 
ordinary and convulsive nature made their appearance, 
to the extreme terror of her companions, to whom the 
drawn face, rolling eyes, groans and twitches seemed 
indubitable proof of diabolical possession. They stood 
helplessly round her bed, " more dead than alive, and 
with copious tears made supplication that God would 
succour their companion in such a perilous conflict." 

The Abbess exhibited as much credulity but vastly 
more saving faith than her spiritual daughters. She 
was not more scientific than they were, but she was 
much more energetic. She " needed to be waited on 
herself rather than to have to wait on others," for she 
was more than usually suffering "by reason of her 
chronic maladies " : but self-forgetting as usual she 
insisted on nursing the unfortunate nun, and for forty- 
eight hours never left her side. 

Towards the end of the second day there was a lull in 
the storm. The nuns besought their beloved Mother to 
take some repose. Caterina yielded to their entreaties, 
but declared that the alleviation was only temporary 
and that she must be called the moment the bad 
symptoms returned. The summons was not long 
delayed. The Sister who was sacristan, presumably 
thinking that the necessity for such aid was over, 
extinguished one of the two consecrated tapers which 
had been placed by the bed, replacing it for purposes 
of light by an ordinary candle. At that moment the 
other consecrated taper went out — " was blown out by 


the Fiend"; whereupon the torments of the sufferer 
began afresh and with increased violence. 

The Abbess had not yet lain down, and she came 
without delay, grieving greatly not only for Samaritana's 
sufferings, but on account of the trial of faith and perse- 
verance they occasioned to the novices, who were 
much distressed that one who had led a holy life should 
thus on her death-bed be abandoned to the power of 
the Evil One. Approaching the bedside, she solemnly 
defied that power, and declared her disbelief in the 
Adversary's ability to disturb the souls of so many of 
God's children, and her confidence in the salvation of 
one who had been the faithful bride of Christ. Turning 
to the nuns, she bade them be calm and constant in 
prayer. Then she sprinkled the dying woman with 
holy water, held her hands, soothed her with words and 
caresses. Next, kneeling beside her, she repeated over 
and over again the name of Jesus. Finally, standing up, 
she said : " Now depart, thou Evil Spirit, thou hast no 
more power in this place or in the soul of this creature." 

And the sufferer lay still : the distorted face became 
composed, regained its old semblance, nay, seemed to 
grow younger, " like the face of a girl of fifteen years " ; 
the eyes became clear and calm ; the lips parted in a 
smile ; and though speechless, the sufferer clearly ex- 
pressed her love and gratitude to the mother who bent 
over her. 

" My daughter, you would fain tell me something of 
your victory ? " 

The sufferer plainly heard, but she could not answer. 

"Rest, rest, my daughter. I understand well what 
thou wouldst say : but now on thy obedience I bid thee 


speedily depart in company with thy dear Guardian 
Angel unto life eternal." 

The dying woman lifted her eyes to the speaker's 
face, and then turned them for a moment on the nuns 
who stood around her. Then with a smile she bowed 
her head and gently drew her last breath. 

To Caterina, who had assisted so untiringly during 
the long hours of travail, the soul's delivery and new 
birth took visible shape. In ecstatic vision she beheld 
the spirit of the departed Sister borne upwards by 
angelic hosts. The intensity of her heart's joy acted 
on her body like some invigorating cordial. She ex- 
perienced a sudden cessation of her physical trouble, an 
instantaneous removal of the burden of weakness and 
weariness which had so long oppressed her. She cast 
away the stick with which she had hobbled to the sick 
room and broke into song and verse ; the nuns caught 
the infection, and the extraordinary scene ends almost 
like some revivalist meeting in a chorus of jubilant, 
spontaneous, ecstatic singing. 

This first death in the convent formed the closing 
scene of Caterina's first term of office. For in three 
days the Provincial Beato Fra Marco Fantuzzi, behold- 
ing in the houses of Poor Clares within his jurisdiction 
not a few abuses and disadvantages springing from 
perpetuity of office, laid before the Pope a proposal 
that the position of abbess or superior should hence- 
forward be held only for a fixed term of years. The 
scheme received the papal approbation ; the office of 
abbess was made triennial, and the measure was ex- 
tended to houses belonging to other orders. 


Such a decree was naturally obnoxious to many- 
reigning abbesses ; but to Caterina, wholly devoid as 
she was of the spirit of domination, the near prospect 
of laying down the reins of government was genuinely 
welcome. Only she desired to finish within her term of 
office a piece of work which her successors might be less 
eager and able to carry out, namely, the beginning of an 
orderly " Archivio." To this self-imposed task she de- 
voted all the energies of her closing reign, collecting 
and cataloguing all privileges, grants, and letters, papal, 
episcopal, and communal, connected with the founding 
of the convent in Bologna, and with her own hand 
making copies of those belonging to the mother house 
in Ferrara. 

Sister Anna Morandi of Ravenna was Caterina's suc- 
cessor, but her office was of short duration. Shortly 
after her election the poor lady was attacked by a 
malady of the eyes, and before a year had passed she 
was almost totally blind. 

A new election was imperative, and the Provincial 
visited the convent for the purpose of conducting it. 
Conversing privately with the nuns, he was told separ- 
ately by them all that they did not mean to vote for 
Sister Caterina because her disposition was so mild, 
lenient, and compassionate that they feared that the 
discipline of the convent would be relaxed by her rule. 

Great therefore was the visitor's astonishment, as he 
drew the voting-papers from the nuns, to find that all 
save one bore the name of Caterina. Surprised and 
irritated he exclaimed — 

" What extraordinary ladies you are ! You tell me 


privately you do not wish Sister Caterina to be your 
Abbess, and then you all vote for her. Which is one to 
believe, your written or your spoken word ? " 

There was silence, till the one sister who had not 
voted for Caterina rose in her place and said — 

" Father, I am she who did not vote for Sister 
Caterina. I persuaded myself I ought not to do so 
for the reasons of which I told you. But now I see 
that it is God's will that she should be our Prelate, and 
I repent and revoke my vote, giving it, like all the rest, 
to Sister Caterina. And for my part I pray you, Father, 
to confirm this our unanimous election." 

Then the Provincial, convinced that this thing was 
the work of the Holy Spirit, formally approved the 
re-election of the first Abbess. 

The pressing need and great work of her second 
term of office was the enlargement of the building. It 
was a deep grief to her to reject a would-be recruit, not 
only because such a refusal seemed discourteous and 
unkind, but because it appeared to involve subtraction 
from the forces engaged in active conflict against sin, 
the world, and the devil. 

At last it happened that some rejected applicants 
were children of wealthy and indulgent parents, who, 
when they realized that their daughters could not be 
received because every cell in the house was already 
occupied, came forward with liberal alms for the en- 
largement of the fabric. Then the Abbess said her 
Nunc Dimittis. She felt that her strength was fail- 
ing, and that her earthly course was nearly run, but she 
had lived to see the answer to her most earnest prayers, 
and the fulfilment of her pure ambitions. 



Praised be Thou, O Lord, by our sister, the Death of the body, 
Whom no living creature may avoid. 

S. Francis of Assisi's Hymn of the Sun. 

CATERINA'S work in this world was nearly done. 
The chronic maladies became more acute, pul- 
monary symptoms appeared, and there was a general 
failure of strength and vitality. 

Her devoted nurse was a young Bolognese, who had 
entered the convent at the age of ten, and had been 
professed at twelve. This little Sister, Maddalena Rosa, 
loved the Mother with the intense, romantic affection 
which a young girl often conceives for an older woman, 
and during the last months of Caterina's life she seldom 
left her side. She slept in her room, helped the " Infir- 
miere" to prepare her food and medicine, and minis- 
tered to her according to the physician's orders. One 
day it happened that while bathing the invalid's feet 
she was moved by an access of mingled love, com- 
passion, and apprehension to stoop and kiss them. Cate- 
rina made a hasty movement of withdrawal, and chid 
the child for foolishness. But the little Sister's spirit 
rose. " You may chide me now, Mother," she cried, 
" but the time will come when many will do as I have 




done." What she precisely meant by this vindication 
of her own affection she did not know. But she was 
wont to declare that the sweet odour proceeding from 
the Santa's feet and filling the little cell impelled her to 
this act of reverent love, and in after years her words 
were remembered and were held to be the prophecy of 
a child pure of heart. 

A full year before the end came there was a sharp 
premonitory illness and a rehearsal of the final death- 
bed scene. The Abbess was removed from her cell to a 
bed in the infirmary. The last sacraments were ad- 
ministered ; the nuns stood weeping quietly round one 
who seemed already to have drifted far beyond their 

But after some hours the tide of life turned. Con- 
sciousness came back ; the eyes opened ; the lips quiv- 
ered into smiles. A few more days, and Caterina was 
clearly convalescent. 

Then it seemed to the nuns that she showed a con- 
valescent's caprice, for she asked constantly and urgently 
for a little viol, and finally charged the Sisters on their 
obedience to bring her one. 

Where the astonished nuns sought, from whom they 
obtained, the instrument is not recorded. But after 
some days a "violetta" was placed in the invalid's 
hands, to her infinite solace and content. She lay 
propped up in bed, now playing on her little viol, now 
reposing with upturned radiant face and far-off gaze, 
lost to her immediate surroundings, and seeniingly ab- 
sorbed in ^appy memories. The nuns, finding them- 
selves unheeded and their interrogations unanswered, 
decided that, in spite of apparent improvement. Gate- 


rina's death was near ; and at length one of them 
exclaimed with a touch of bitterness : " Ah ! Mother 
dear, you go away to enjoy music and song in heaven, 
but we remain below in sorrow and tears." 

The words seemed to bring the Abbess back to her 
children. She told the tearful nun to have no fear. 
Her hour had indeed come, but her departure was 
delayed by the prayets of one of their number : the 
Lord had granted that she should tarry awhile. 

Then, little by little, she told them of the vision 
which had filled the hours when she lay between life 
and death. Her spirit seemed transported to a fair 
meadow, "more beautiful than can be told or thought"; 
and in the midst of it was set a throne resplendent as 
the sun, and on the throne the Heavenly King. The 
supporters on either side the throne were the martyrs 
Laurence and Vincent, and all around them stood the 
court, even an infinite number of saints and angels. 
But before the throne was a clear space, and in that 
space there stood a single angel, holding a little viol, 
to which he sang. And the song was so exceeding 
sweet that it seemed to Caterina as though the soul 
must leave her body for pure joy. But though it 
never ceased, and the vision lasted long, she could hear 
no other words but these : Et gloria ejus in te videbitur. 

Then the Lord Himself stretched forth His arm and 
took her by the hand, and said : " Listen, O daughter, 
to this refrain and understand, for it is of thee it speaks." 
But Caterina seemed dazed and stupefied with joy ; yet 
as she knelt confounded and speechless before the throne, 
she understood that her hour of deliverance was not yet 
come, but that prayer was dragging her back to earth. 


No one can r6ad Caterina's description of this vision 
of the Court of Heaven without being struck by its 
pictorial quality. The central throne with its two balls 
(pomi), on which stand as supporters the two deacon 
martyrs ; the grouping on either side of saints and 
angels ; the background of green and flowery meadow ; 
the open space in front occupied by the single figure on 
which all interest concentrates ; — this is a conventional, 
carefully balanced composition of a kind familiar to all 
students of the pictures and miniatures of the Trecento 
and early Quattrocentro} 

The vision itself furnished a subject to the painter 
Guido Morina, whose picture hangs in the Sala del 
Tiarini in the Gallery of Bologna. The two saints 
represented as supporters of the heavenly throne are 
wrongly named alike by Mrs. Jameson and the official 
catalogue, the former calling them S. Stephen and 
St. Laurence, the latter S. Sebastian and St. Laurence. 

The waking remembrance and repetition of a dream- 
melody recalls a story told of another musical saint, the 
English Dunstan. One night in sleep he seemed to be 
present at the espousals of his mother with the Saviour 
of the world. The angelic choir sang, but he, the duti- 
ful and loving son, was dumb. Then one of the angels, 
pitying his ignorance, vouchsafed to teach him the song. 
Next morning, assembling his monks round him, he 
taught them the music he had learned in the vision of 
the previous night. 

■" Mrs. Jameson tells us that the deacon martyrs SS. Vincent and 
Laurence were frequently associated in sacred art, the Spanish legend even 
making them brothers ; but the present writer has not been able to dis- 
cover any picture thus introducing them which might have been seen by 


To the nuns who had never heard their Abbess play, 
her proficiency on the viol seemed miraculous, and 
following their naive suggestions, later biographers 
declared that Caterina had no previous musical know- 
ledge. But the close friend and cultured lady, Suor 
Illuminata, makes no such assertion. She doubtless 
understood that the dying woman's mind was wander- 
ing back to her girlhood in Ferrara, when Parisina 
accompanied the singing of her stepson Ugo, when 
Borso, of an age with Caterina, and his senior Leonello, 
played on various instruments, and when the little 
Margherita and her companion were doubtless expected 
to contribute to the chamber music of the Court. 

The Abbess did not long enjoy the selfish delights of 
convalescence. After a few days the little viol was laid 
aside, never to be touched again, and Caterina rose from 
her bed, and to the wonder and anxiety of her nuns, 
followed her customary routine. She did what she had 
always done, but with new grace and inspiration. She 
seemed consumed with zeal, on fire with love ; so that 
in very truth the words of the singing angel were ful- 
filled, and God's glory was manifested in the daily life 
of this Saint. It is obvious from the sequence of 
revelation in Caterina's narrative that she herself 
accepted the refrain as an injunction to greater holiness 
during the months unexpectedly added to her allotted 
span. But after her death and the artificial reclame 
created by her fond but foolish disciples, the words were 
converted into a prediction of her technical sanctity 
and its bases. 

Long ago Caterina had numbered among her Seven 
Weapons "Memoria mortis proprise," but throughout 


that winter of 1463 she seemed to look forward with 
chastened impatience to the approach of " Sister Death," 
whose coming might not be hastened, and the hour 
of whose arrival was announced. The winter was 
peculiarly severe, and the Sisters trembled when they saw 
their Abbess kneel absorbed in prayer for hours in the 
cold church. At length they offered a remonstrance, 
whereupon Caterina smiled and bid them have no fear, 
for " 1' ora mia non e venuta." Another time a report 
was circulated that Caterina was to be transferred as 
Abbess to another convent ; but this fear also she dis- 
pelled with great decision, saying that at Ferrara the 
Lord had revealed to her she should finish her earthly 
course at Bologna, and that the end was at hand. 

On the 25th of February a Chapter was held, and 
after the dispatch of the usual business the Abbess, as 
was her custom, addressed her daughters. Her subject 
was the power of prayer ; she spoke with unusual 
fluency and fervour ; her heart seemed full to over- 
flowing ; and the little ragionamento expanded into 
a discourse three hours in length. At its close the 
Abbess begged her daughters to pardon her long speech, 
giving as her excuse the certainty that this was the laslj 
Chapter she would ever hold : " My end has come, and 
gladly 1 go hence. I leave you the peace of Christ. 
Love one another. I shall ever plead before God 
for you." 

The nuns were astonished at these words, and did 
not take them greatly to heart. Caterina had been ill 
so frequently, and had frightened them so constantly, 
and just now she seemed better and stronger than 


If they had any apprehensions these were allayed by 
the bearing of their Mother on the following Sunday. 
She looked particularly well and seemed unusually 
bright and cheerful. All day she talked more than 
was her wont, and in the evening supped gaily with her 
daughters in the refectory. But in the domitory she 
spoke briefly to Sister lUuminata concerning the future 
of the house, bidding her have confidence in the Divine 
aid and protection, and adding : " Blessed be the Lord 
who at last has granted me the longed-for end, the 
longed-for rest." 

Then she went to her bed, and did not rise from 
it again. Next day the old symptoms had returned, 
accompanied by fever. She suffered greatly, but again, 
as in her former sickness, found relief in music, singing 
with great fervour and delight her own canzone, 

" Anima benedetta 
Dall' alto Creatore," ' 

to an accompaniment played by one of the Sisters. 

Early in the morning of Wednesday, the gth of 
March, she asked for the "Vicaria," the sister who 
acted as governante or housekeeper. Suor Giovanna 
Lambertini duly came to her bedside, and was there 
directed by the Abbess to put away and carefully 
preserve the clothes and other effects of a certain 
recently arjived novice. " Be ready," said the Abbess, 
" when asked for these things to deliver them at once ; 

' Caiducci includes this hymn in his anthology, " Primavera e Fieri della 
Lirica Italiana," but labels it " Ignoto, Secolo XIV." It is however 
attributed to Caterina by most of her biographers, and we are told that 
the nuns circulated numerous copies in her lifetime, but always, by her 
express desire, without giving the name of the author. See Appendix A. 


and meanwhile let all pray fervently for this novice, 
whose need is great." A few weeks later Caterina's 
judgment and knowledge of character was illustrated 
by the withdrawal of the novice in question from the 
religious life. 

Later in the day the Abbess sent for the Confessor, 
and bade her daughters prepare an altar in the room, 
and place at the foot of her bed a crucifix, candles, 
and holy water. The command surprised and shocked 
the nuns, for, though the serious symptoms continued, 
neither they nor the physician regarded the Mother's 
condition as critical. But when they had obeyed her, 
and had prepared for her reception of the last sacra- 
ments, she signed to them to gather round her and 
began to take leave of them. 

She commended to them the novices, " both those 
who are with you now and those who will come in the 
future." She bade them respect and obey the "Vi- 
caria," Sister Giovanna Lambertini, "who has always 
been a good and faithful daughter to me; and one 
better qualified for her work I could not have desired." 
And she earnestly besought their care and protection 
for her aged mother, Benvenuta dei Mamolini, who, by 
special permission of the Pope, was now residing within 
the convent, though only a "Terzina," she having, a 
year after her arrival in Bologna, become exceedingly 
infirm and totally blind. 

After these bequests came two solemn warnings : 
Let no one within or without the house seek or scheme 
for the removal or the transference of any member 
of the community, or for the reception of nuns from 
other convents ; and let none give cause for a dimin- 


ution of the fair fame of the house ; and if any thus 
transgress " I will demand vengeance upon them before 
the tribunal of the Eternal Judge." 

In this trumpet-note of passionate denunciation we 
have a last glimpse of what may be called the warlike 
side of Caterina's nature. But it speedily died away 
into a strain of yearning, maternal tenderness for the 
spiritual children she was leaving orphaned. Once 
again, adopting the words of her Lord, she left them 
the precious legacy of peace ; once again she re- 
peated the Johannine injunction to mutual love. And 
then she comforted them and bade them dry their 
tears, saying that those who wept for her were not her 

Presently she turned to the portress and commanded 
her to go instantly to the door ; but the portress, stupe- 
fied with grief and believing that the Confessor could 
not possibly arrive so soon, did not stir. Caterina 
repeated the command, asserting that he whom she 
expected was even now knocking at the gate. And 
so, indeed, he was ; and the speed with which he had 
received and obeyed the message of the Abbess seemed 
to the excited nuns nothing less than miraculous. 

Another miracle was created out of the Confessor's 
confusion, and the Abbess's composure and know- 
ledge of the office. Having made her confession 
with a strong voice and perfect clearness of mind, 
Caterina prepared with great devotion to receive the 
viaticum. But the priest lost his place, failed to " find 
the words proper to this occasion," and stood helplessly 
turning and returning the leaves. Whereupon the 
Abbess said gently : " Father, look in the middle of the 


book, and you will find what you want." The Confessor 
followed her direction and proceeded with the office. 

Extreme Unction was then administered, and Caterina 
afterwards placed in the Confessor's hands the book she 
had long ago composed, but the existence of which she 
had carefully concealed. Then she turned to the Sisters 
and said humbly: " I ask pardon of you all for any grief 
or offence I may have given you. Pray God for me." 

She looked up at them with a bright and peaceful 
face, then her eyelids closed, and with the name of 
her Saviour thrice repeated on her lips — "Gesti, Gesu, 
Gesii" — Caterina dei Vigri "breathed forth her happy 
soul in a little gentle sigh." 



Put a chalk-egg beneath the clucking hen, 
She'll lay a real one, laudably deceived, 
Daily for weeks to come. I've told my lie 
And seen truth follow, marvels none of mine ; 
All was not cheating, sir, I'm positive. 

Browning, Sludge the Medium. 

ONE would gladly take leave of the Abbess Caterina 
lying as though in peaceful sleep upon her narrow 
bed, her face less corpse-like than it had often been in 
the days of her suffering life, and wearing the wonder- 
ful look of renewed youth and placid childlike innocence 
which is often the gentle gift of " Sister Death." One 
would gladly take leave of her thus ; but the strange 
blackened figure in the church of Corpus Domini is so 
insistent, and the Santa's post-mortem history bulks so 
large in hagiography, that we must needs consider the 
events which led to her canonization. 

Briefly they are as follows : — 

The grave of the deceased Abbess was naturally 
visited frequently by the sorrowing nuns. Some of 
them declared that it exhaled fragrance ; others dis- 
covered that after kneeling on the spot they were cured 
of various small maladies. After eighteen days the 
body was exhumed and was found unchanged, beauti- 



ful, and positively fragrant. By permission of the 
Cardinal-Bishop, it was exposed in the chapel, and was 
visited by numbers of pious Bolognese. By degrees 
the fame of the Santa spread beyond her city. Pilgrims 
from all parts of Italy visited the lifelike corpse, and 
bestowed rich gifts^ upon it. The first " Life " published 
in 1503 devotes a lengthy section "to the numerous 
miracles which God has worked by means of this 
blessed one." The first printed copy of The Seven 
Weapons, published less than fifty years after its author's 
death,^ shows that her cult was thoroughly established. 
Fourteen years later it was formally authorized by 
Clement VII, and a special office was appointed for 
her festa. In 1592 the title of Beata was conferred 
on her. In May, 1707, her canonization was decreed, 
though the act was not executed till 171 3. 

We will now examine some of these facts in detail, 
and will glance at the evidence for them supplied by 
various persons in the processo which preceded the 
canonization. Let us first, however, prepare our judicial 
faculties by recalling the passion for relics which char- 
acterized the age to which Caterina belonged. The 
keen competition for them between city and city, 
monastery and monastery, is a phenomenon with which 
the modern student of history may not sympathize, 
but with which he must needs reckon. Fraud and 
force were exercised in their acquisition, and the end 
was held to justify the means. Having acquired a 

^ Notably the diadem presented by Isabella, wife of Ferdinand of 
Aragon, King of Naples, and the splendid robe given by S. Carlo 
Borromeo. ' i.e. in 1510. 


commercial value, they became subjects of speculation. 
It was worth while to secure the body not only of an 
actual but of a prospective saint. Thus the companions 
of S. Francis persuaded him on his last journey back 
to Umbria to take the longer route by Gubbio and 
Nocera, for they feared that the inhabitants of Perugia 
would attempt by force of arms to seize the person of 
their dying master. 

Now we know that Caterina's reputation for sanctity 
was established prior to her death. She was welcomed 
at Bologna as that " Suor Caterina who had held in her 
arms the Holy Child." Her intercessions were held 
to have special efficacy. The gifts of healing and of 
prophecy were attributed to her. The nuns loved her 
and were proud of her, and naturally desired to spread 
and to perpetuate her fame. Thus we have an atmo- 
sphere in which pious fraud could be executed with 
little forcing of conscience, and in which it would be 
received without severe examination. 

Furthermore we must note : (a) That in the pro- 
cesso preceding her canonization the advocates for her 
sanctity are concerned to prove that embalming did not 
take place, not that it could not have taken place. The 
argument which would have rendered all others super- 
fluous, i.e. that the art of embalming was wholly un- 
known or unpractised at that time, or that it was 
utterly beyond the skill of any of the nuns or of the 
convent physician, is never advanced, {b') That the 
nuns had time and opportunity for the embalming of 
the body either before or after its committal to the 
convent graveyard. 

A scene of extraordinary hysterical emotion ensued 


when the nuns realized that their Abbess had really 
left them. Sabadini degli Arienti,'^ who wrote the life 
of the Saint for the benefit of Ginevra Sforza, wife of 
his patron Sante Bentivoglio, tells us that " the whole 
convent resounded with sorrowful crying, sighs and 
sobs." Some of the nuns fell to the ground swooning 
or cataleptic, and were carried to their cells. " And 
now this one, now that embraced her sister for sorrow^ 
saying, ' Alas ! whom have we now to comfort us ? We 
have lost all ! Merciful God, have pity on us.' " 

Then the Confessor ordered that the room should be 
cleared, and that only three or four of the community 
who retained their senses should be left with the corpse 
to prepare it for burial. He himself retired to read the 
MS. which the dying woman had delivered to him, and 
to confess some of the afflicted and hysterical nuns who 
appeared to be in a moribund condition. To their aid 
also the physicians were summoned. Thus a doctor 
was certainly within the convent during the hours which 
intervened between the Abbess's death and the removal 
of the body to the church. 

The number of these intervening hours we unfortu- 
nately do not know. Assuming that Caterina died 
between 10 and ri a.m.^ on Wednesday, March 9th, 
the " ufficio funebre " could not have taken place before 
the morning of Thursday, but we should expect the 

' For his patroness he wrote the biographies of thirty-three women. 
This collection — Ginevra de le Clare Donne — was republished by Corrado 
Ricci in 1888. Sabadini was a writer of no distinction, but is a valuable 
authority, inasmuch as most of the Lives are those of women of the 
fifteenth century, who were almost his contemporaries. 

° We are told that she died " sulle ore quindici," and we assume that 
the reckoning is from the Ave Maria of the preceding evening. 


body to have been taken to the church on Wednesday 
evening. The hagiographers, however, do not tell us 
that this was done ; on the contrary, we might infer from 
their accounts of the funeral that it followed almost im- 
mediately on the transport of the body to the church. 
They tell us that when the holy Abbess was brought 
before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament her dead 
face beamed with joy ; but they somewhat destroy the 
effectiveness of this information by adding that "the 
afflicted ladies" took no heed of so startling a phe- 
nomenon, being " wholly occupied with bitterness and 
anguished weeping." " And thus," says Sabadini, " with 
tearful obsequies they bore her to the grave." 

Having satisfied ourselves that there was time be- 
tween Caterina's death and burial for a thorough or for 
a partial embalmment, let us proceed to note the con- 
duct of the sisters appointed as gravediggers. 

" Sorrowing for pity that the face which in life had 
been to them the mirror of comfort and holiness and 
which in death appeared the same should be pressed 
down by earth," the four nuns placed over it a cloth, 
and above the cloth arranged a board propped on 
stones, so that the body should not actually come into 
contact with the soil. 

Now follow hints of a mysterious light hovering above 
the grave by night, and of sweet odours rising from it 
by day. The light may indicate that the work of em- 
balming was not complete before interment or that 
preservative or odoriferous substances were being added 
from time to time ; or it may merely have been one 
feature in a scheme for awakening a belief in the 
sanctity of the already embalmed Abbess and a de- 


mand for her exhumation. Certain it is that the belief 
grew apace, and that the demand was made with in- 
creasing insistency ; till at length the Father Confessor 
yielded so far as to consent that the body should be 
placed in a coffin, with, however, the proviso that the 
exhumation should be abandoned if any noxious odour 
arose from the grave, and that if carried out it should 
be followed by the immediate reinterment of the coffin. 
And this, says the earliest Life, he said because the 
Padri Osservanti "were not well assured of her sanctity, 
albeit the grave exhaled the strongest odours." The same 
Life tells us that the sisters had made a coffin secretly; 
which looks as though they did not even wait for a 
permission which they were determined to extract. 

A dramatic account is given of the nocturnal dis- 
interment. The evening was ushered in by thunder, 
rain, and tempest, and the four sisters waited long 
beneath the portico adjoining the cemetery, unable to 
begin their work, and convinced that the hindrance was 
of the Devil's machination. At length Sister Illumi- 
nata Bembo left the sheltering colonnade, advanced into 
the open, and conjured the tempest and the darkness 
with the holy cross, praying God to give her a sign 
whether or no it were His will that the body should be 
removed. And behold ! the sky above the graveyard 
cleared. " The calm vault of heaven glittering with 
stars," says Sabadini, "became visible," and beams of 
light seemed to descend upon the grave. 

The Confessor's apprehensions were not justified ; 
the body was uncorrupted ; only the board, by reason 
of the weight of earth above it, had slipped and injured 
the face, especially the nose. The nuns placed the 


body in the coffin, cleaned the face, and straightened 
the nose ; whereupon, says Sabadini, there issued from 
it " living blood." 

And now according to the Confessor's instructions 
the coffin should have been closed and returned to 
earth. But these four nuns were, strangely enough, 
unanimously " overpowered by a sudden impulse, which 
they held to be a divine prompting." Lifting the 
coffin "with one accord," they bore it through the 
colonnade to the church, and set it down before the 
altar of the Blessed Sacrament. Whereupon, they 
declared, the former miracle was repeated, and the dead 
Abbess visibly saluted the Body of the Lord. There 
she lay in the open coffin, her face fresh and fair, her 
flesh supple, her skin exuding a sweet liquid, which 
was collected and preserved by the careful nuns. And 
these things were noised abroad throughout the city, 
and all the pious citizens by licence of the Legate 
flocked to visit the blessed corpse. And the Legate 
himself desired as a relic the cloth wrapped about the 
face of the holy Abbess, soaked with the mysterious 
odoriferous " sweat." 

The Bishop then ordered the body to be placed in 
a sort of altar-tomb with two keys, one of which was 
consigned to the Mother of the convent, the other to 
its Father Confessor. But this arrangement did not 
satisfy the sisters. A few days later, on Holy Saturday, 
they were again overcome by a desire to look upon 
the Mother's face ; the tomb was unlocked, and the 
silken tunic in which the body had been clothed was 
found to be soaked with fragrant moisture. Some 
perturbation was occasioned by the ashen hue and 


sunken eyes of the corpse, but on Easter morning the 
disquieting symptoms had disappeared, the eyes were 
half open and the colour was fresh and rosy, tokens, it 
was felt, of continued connexion between body and 
soul, and therefore — though the logic of the inference 
seems obscure — of the latter's beatitude. "And this 
new marvel," says Caterina's biographer, "was made 
public, and by a fresh concourse of pious folk was 
attested and approved." 

But, alas ! before maiiy months had passed, the nuns 
were forced to acknowledge that the face was blacken- 
ing. The woeful change was attributed to the damp of 
the hastily made sarcophagus, and the dead Abbess 
was accordingly placed on a litter and borne upstairs to 
her own dry and airy cell. 

But however convenient this habitation may have 
been for the living, it was found to be unsuitable for the 
dead. When pilgrims requested an interview, the 
Santa was placed on a litter and conveyed downstairs 
into the choir, from which through the "window for 
Communion" (finestrina della Comunione) she was 
exhibited to the devout. But the continual ascent 
and descent of the stairs was somewhat perilous to 
the precious corpse and made large demands on its 
guardians' time and strength, while the bulky litter 
took up much needed space in the nuns' choir. It 
was felt after some years that a change must be made, 
and one of the guardians of the body noticing its 
continued flexibility suggested that it should be placed 
in a sitting posture in a chair-like tabernacle, which 
could be kept in a niche in the choir, and be run 
forward on castors to the window when required. 


The plan was accepted, and the tabernacle was made, 
but Caterina appeared averse to the arrangement. The 
body was found to be too rigid to assume a sitting 
posture, and the nuns were at their wits' end when 
the Abbess Illuminata Bembo ^ commanded her some- 
time Superior and friend to let herself be placed on 
the prepared seat. The appeal to "holy obedience" 
prevailed. As though of her own will and movement 
Caterina sank upon the seat, and " vi si accomod6 con 
grandissima grazia." 

But this arrangement also was cumbersome and 
inconvenient, and at length the Santa herself suggested 
a better one. Appearing in a dream to one of her 
guardians, Suor Leonora Poggi, she indicated as her 
choice the abode she has ever since occupied, a 
camerino lying between the sacristy of the nuns' 
choir and the eastern wall, a little to the side of the 
high altar of the handsome external church of Corpus 
Domini. Suor Leonora awoke, and behold it was a 
dream which faded before the dawn of a new day. 
But next night the dream was repeated, with re- 
proaches, and the nun awoke full of misgivings and 
indecision. Fearing a diabolic temptation to presump- 
tion, she still hesitated to speak, till a third appearance 
of the Saint, and renewed commands and reproaches, 
sent her at break of day in great agitation to the 

Now Mother Illuminata knew naught of the ex- 
istence of this little room, which belonged to the 
quarters of the lay sisters and was outside the strictly 
cloistered portion of the building. But when sought 

' The Abbess Illuminata does not herself record the fact. 


for, all was found to. be as the dream-Caterina had 
revealed, even to the pieces of wood and spare 
hangings which formed the camerino's contents. A 
window was opened as she had directed, to afford a 
view of the high altar, and facing it the Santa was 
placed on the chair she had occupied as Abbess. There 
she has ever since sat enthroned, only the chair, less in- 
corruptible than its occupant, was in 1584 observed to 
be rotten and unsafe, and was replaced by a new and 
more gorgeous seat, carved and gilded according to the 
taste of the age. 

In 1 68 1 a folio volume was published in Rome con- 
taining an account of the examination of witnesses, 
and the facts agreed upon by the Sacra Congregatio de 
Ritu in reference to Caterina's post-mortem history. 

The fragrance, incorruptibility, and unsupported 
sitting-posture of the body form the chief heads of 
inquiry. All the witnesses agreed that in their day 
there had been no issuing of " living blood " from any 
part of the body, though some of the older nuns 
mentioned the tradition of their convent that nose- 
bleeding took place one hundred and thirty years after 
the " Santa's " death. All again admitted that the hair 
and nails were not actually growing; but Alfonso 
Arnoaldo, Canon of S. Petronio, drew attention to the 
fact that the hair was long, and that this was unusual 
in a nun, while the convent physician affirmed that he 
had heard growth had ceased only twelve years pre- 
viously. He loyally attributed the olive tint of the 
skin to constant exposure to candlelight, and defended 
himself against further cross-questioning by declaring 


that his sight was bad and he could not really see. All 
the witnesses agreed that the skin was discoloured/ 
that the sitting posture was maintained without arti- 
ficial support, and that beneath the insteps, and on 
the thighs and chest, the body was soft and flexible, 
some even said warm, to the touch. The nuns alone 
declared that the face changed in expression, some- 
times looking pained and severe, at other times sweet 
and joyful. 

The most interesting and accurate evidence is that of 
certain noble Bolognese matrons, and of a doctor, one 
Carlo Riario, who was called as an expert. For his 
part, said this witness, he could not call the body either 
corrupt or incorrupt, because flesh proper there was 
none, though the skin — "cute, cuticula e membrana 
carnosa " — is perfect and entire. When asked whether 
he considered this state of preservation natural or 
supernatural, he answered cautiously that he inclined 
to the belief that it was supernatural — "piu tosto lo 
credero Divino " — and this chiefly because of the con- 
tinued attachment of hair to the cuticle, "for hair is 
nourished by the moisture of the body, whereas this 
body is dried up." 

The noble matrons were empowered to examine the 
body with the object of discovering any traces of 
corruption on the one hand or embalming on the other. 
They admit the existence of little creases or fissures, 
but declare their belief that these are only skin-deep, 
and attributable merely to "ritiramento della pelle," 

^ Fathei Grassetti attributes this negrezza to the dampness of the 
place where the body was kept during the first months after its disinter- 


a shrinking of the skin. They also notice the ex- 
istence of a little piece of cloth under the left arm, 
which was removed at their request, and was not found 
to conceal any defect. 

One of the nuns appointed as custodian of the 
Santa admits the existence of a superficial fissure in 
the right arm protected by a piece of linen. A second 
custodian speaks of little pieces of linen attached by 
gomma to both arms, with the object, she declares, of 
protecting the body from the weight of heavy 

As to the odour emanating from the venerated body, 
it is noteworthy that the short-sighted convent physi- 
cian declared that " for his sins he had never smelt it " ; 
that the " discreet matrons " said that they did not 
notice it during their examination of the body, whereas 
on previous visits to the chapel the air seemed filled 
with fragrance ; and lastly that the nuns of Ferrara, 
determined not to be altogether eclipsed by their 
Bolognese sisters, maintained that on certain anniver- 
saries a delicious fragrance pervaded those portions of 
their building which had been specially frequented by 
Sister Caterina. 

This record of the carefully threshed out reasons for 
Caterina's canonization is curiously disagreeable read- 
ing. The processo has the repulsiveness, without the 
justification, of a coroner's inquest, its ultimate end 
being not the safety of the living but the glorification 
of a woman whom many generations of her fellow- 
citizens had already hailed as blessed. The true odour 
of sanctity exhaled by The Seven Weapons seems 
tainted by the discussion of the nature of the perfume 


observed in the chapel. Comments on growing hair 
and nails and blackened and fissured skin seem un- 
warrantable liberties taken with a defenceless gentle- 
woman ; and, remembering Illuminata's ridiculous 
commendation of Caterlna's prudishness, we feel a 
heat of vicarious modesty at the really perfectly 
decorous proceedings of the Bolognese matrons. The 
various depositions seem heavy with suggestion of 
fraud mingling with gruesome but not unparalleled 
natural phenomena, and the worst features of 
medieval superstition meet those of modern note- 
taking realism in the descriptions of the appearance 
and condition of the corpse, descriptions from which 
any hint of the sweet personality which once animated 
it is rigorously excluded. 

As for the post-mortem miracles of the " Santa," 
which in their turn are duly examined and discussed, 
they are of a kind familiar to all readers of hagio- 
graphical literature. Two were cited in the Deed of 
Canonization — the cure of a stiff hand useless for nine 
months, and of a violent fever with delirium and coma. 
Both patients were nuns ; both were despaired of by 
their physicians. 

But the greatest miracle of all went unmentioned 
and won no kudos for its worker. It was this : 
Caterina being dead ruled the convent of Corpus 
Domini for the space of an entire year. Her daughters 
could not bring themselves to make a fresh election, 
for the spirit of the beloved Abbess seemed as close to 
them as was her earthly tabernacle. When at length 
the Vicar-General visited the community he found that 
order, discipline, charity, and content were perfectly 


maintained under the ghostly rule of a fair memory. 
None of the nuns would consent to reign in Caterina's 
stead, and her successor had at length to be imported 
from the mother-house in Ferrara. 



If at whiles 
My heart sinks, as monotonous I paint 
These endless cloisters and eternal aisles 
With the same series, Virgin, Babe and Saint 

At least no merchant trafiScs in my heart ; 

The sanctuary's gloom at least shall ward ^ 

Vain tongues from where my pictures stand apart. 

So die my pictures ! surely, gently die. 

Browning, Pictor Ignotus. 

Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know, 
Reach many a time a heaven that's shut to me, 
Enter and take their place there sure enough. 
Though they come back and cannot tell the world. 

Browning, Andrea del Sarto. 

A CHAPTER dealing with the artistic activity of 
Caterina dei Vigri is of necessity bald and brief. 
Her biographers were concerned to spread the fame of 
the " Santa," not of the artist. Her painting in their 
eyes as in her own was merely a superfluous expression 
of religious fervour, of far less importance than many 
other manifestations of the same grace. Consequently 
they tantalize us by indicating considerable artistic 



industry without supplying any details as to its results. 
Thus lUuminata Bembo, who develops with such satis- 
factory fullness the character of her friend and the 
nature of their intercourse, dismisses her paintings in a 
single sentence : " E volontiere dipingea il Verbo Divino 
piccolino infasciato, e per molti luoghi del Monastero di 
Ferrara, e pei libri lo faceva cosi piccolino." (She 
delighted in painting the Divine Word as a swaddled 
child, and for many places in the monastery at Ferrara 
and for the books she did Him thus.) 

The earliest " Life," that of 1 503, does not even repeat 
these details, but merely gives us the unillustrated in- 
formation that " her hands were singularly skilful in the 
writing of fair books and in illumination in various 

These meagre statements at least indicate what is 
borne out by the few existing specimens of her work, 
namely, that Caterina, whether she painted moderately 
large pictures or decorated breviaries, was essentially 
a miniaturist. We have seen that in thought and feeling 
she belonged to an age anterior to her own, and this 
backwardness of temper is expressed by the primitive 
character of her art. It is very difficult to realize that 
Gentile Bellini was only eight years her junior ; or even 
that the Dominican, whose gentle mysticism and lack of 
science were akin to her own, was decorating the walls 
of S. Marco in Florence at the very time when she was 
adorning "many places in the convent of Ferrara." Far 
easier is it to recollect that Duccio was another of her 
contemporaries ; for curiously enough the Bambino in 
the best authenticated of Caterina's paintings, the really 
beautiful " Madonna of the Apple," somewhat resembles 


in facial shape and expression the Infants of the Sienese 
painter, whose work it seems unlikely she ever saw. 

The " Madonna of the Apple " hangs in the chapel of 
the Santa in the church of Corpus Domini in Bologna. 
It is unsigned, but has been attributed to the first 
Abbess by the constant and unbroken tradition of the 
convent. It is a large miniature on canvas, with care- 
fully stippled colour and the application of burnished 
gold. The flesh tints are clear, fresh, and beautiful ; 
the expression of the Holy Child is intelligent and 
engaging ; and the crimson tones of the Virgin's robe 
are wonderfully rich and harmonious. The picture is 
named from the ripe fruit which she holds in her left 

Another Madonna and Child traditionally attributed 
to Caterina hangs in the convent refectory. It was 
shown to the writer by the courtesy of two of the 
Sisters, the Madre Camerlinga and Suor Marianna. 
Too large to be passed through the aperture in the 
parlour wall, it could be seen only through the double 
"grille." But even this imperfect view revealed its 
likeness and its inferiority to the " Madonna of the 
Apple." The likeness was most marked in respect to 
the attitude and expression of the Bambino, and the 
effect of inferiority in execution was heightened by the 
misplaced piety of past generations, which had adorned 
the Mother with earrings and the Child with necklaces 
of pearl and coral. 

Another specimen of work attributed to the Santa 
was more closely inspected. It was a sheet of vellum 
about seven inches by eight inches, on which was drawn 
a half-length figure of the Redeemer and two small 




scenes representing the Annunciation. The Christ is 
executed in pale transparent tints with golden aureole 
and collar, against an opaque dull blue background 
faintly lined with gold. The right hand points to the 
wounded side, visible through the semi-transparent 
robe. The left hand grasps an open book, on the 
pages of which we have a specimen of Caterina's fine 
calligraphy. On one is written : — 

In me omnis gratia 

in me omnis vie (?) et veritetis. 

On the other : — 

In me omnis spes 
Vite (?) et virtutis. 

The two little round miniatures above the half-length 
figure of the Redentore are somewhat superior in 
execution, and it has been conjectured that they are by 
another hand, possibly that of her master. To the 
writer the superiority only seems such as would result 
from an additional degree of experience and courage. 
The larger miniature may have been painted when the 
artist — an amateur it must be remembered — was out of 
practice, the two smaller when she had "her hand 
in." Probably, too, she had already attempted an 
Annunciation. However that may be, her treatment of 
the subject is distinctly interesting. In one of the 
little pictures the Virgin sits, in the other the Announ- 
cing Angel kneels ; and in both the background is a 
green meadow filled with pre-Raphaelite flowers and 
shaded by golden trees. 

In connexion with this outdoor setting of an event 
depicted by most of the painters of the time as taking 


place in the house, or at least in an open cloister or 
loggia, it is interesting to remember that in Caterina's 
vision of the Heavenly Court the scene is "a great 
meadow of such beauty as human speech cannot de- 
scribe." That vision, as we have already said, is the 
dream of a medieval painter. Another, of an earlier 
date (143 1 ), is described by Caterina in The Seven 
Weapons as a painter might describe his conception of 
a picture. The subject is the Last Judgment. God 
" in human form and aspect, clothed in crimson, with 
face turned towards the west, stands in the highest 
clouds of heaven." "A little lower down, to the side 
but not far away," the Virgin Mother, robed and 
mantled in pure white, stands in an attitude of ad- 
miring expectation. " Some distance below " the twelve 
apostles sit on flaming thrones. Much lower again a 
great multitude of men and women stand with faces 
upturned to God. Caterina herself had a place among 
those on God's right hand. 

Here, wonderful to relate, the picture ends. We 
should have expected such a description of the torments 
of the lost and the joys of the saved as arouses our 
interest and repugnance on the walls of the Spanish 
chapel, or the painting of Fra Angelico in the Belle 
Arti, in Florence. But with singular restraint and 
dramatic feeling Caterina seizes the one moment of 
supreme expectation and omits subsequent details. 
Whether this composition was ever transferred from 
mind to canvas we do not know. Perhaps Caterina 
was conscious that her technical skill was inadequate 
to the task ; perhaps she tried, and tried in vain, to 
realize her fine conception. 




The two best-known pictures ascribed to Caterina dei 
Vigri are unfortunately far less pleasing and less well 
authenticated than the works already described. The 
"St. Ursula" in the Bolognese Gallery (No. 202) is a 
lady of enormous stature with flat, fair, expressionless 
face of a Dutch type. She is, however, most gorgeously 
and harmoniously attired in a rose -madder, white- 
cinctured, gold-embroidered gown, under a green-lined 
mantle of cloth of gold. Her virgins, the tallest of 
whom hardly reaches to her ankles, shelter themselves 
in the folds of this splendid cloak, and tremblingly 
support the scaffolding poles from which float the 
emblematic red and white pennons. 

The "St. Ursula" of the Accademia of Venice (No. 54, 
Sala III) is in features, dress, and colouring not unlike the 
giantess of Bologna, but she has only four attendants, 
does not tower above them, and carries her own red 
and white banner. Red, tawny, and brown tones pre- 
vail through the picture. The pose of the second lady 
on the right is graceful and unexpected, reminding us 
slightly of Ferugino, and she has a very curious scarlet 
horn projecting from her curly hair. In the foreground 
kneels a nun in a white habit with a black wimple. 

The signature, " CATTERINA viGRi F BOLOGNA. 1456," 
is almost certainly a later addition. 

The white habit of the kneeling figure has inclined 
some Italian experts to believe that the picture was 
painted, not by Caterina, but by a Dominican nun. 
The well-known name of the Santa of Bologna would 
undoubtedly be affixed by later generations to a 
picture traditionally attributed to a forgotten fifteenth- 
century religious. But is it quite certain that the kneel- 


ing figure in the foreground is a Dominican ? The nun 
does not indeed wear the grey or brown serge of a 
Poor Clare; but a white habit was worn not only by 
Dominicans but also by some communities emanat- 
ing from the Augustinian Order.^ The distinguishing 
mark of a Dominican is of course the knotted cord ; 
but the position of the arms of this small kneeling 
figure prevents us from seeing whether this is present. 
The straight fall of the white folds suggests, however, 
the absence of any cincture. 

Now if we assume that this figure may be Augustinian, 
various interesting possibilities present themselves. If 
the date 1456 be altogether imaginary, we may see 
in the nun an early auto-ritrattro of the painter, or a 
portrait of her friend Suor Illuminata ; and in either case 
the picture may have been a gift to the latter's family, 
the great Venetian house of Bembo. If on the other 
hand we accept the date as correct even though its 
inscription be not contemporaneous, we may imagine 
that Caterina, warned by a vision of her approaching 
departure to Bologna, determined to take with her as 
a precious souvenir a portrait of " our first Mother," 
Lucia Mascheroni. We know that Lucia never aban- 
doned the habit and rule she had first adopted, while 
her early work among the young ladies of Ferrara 
might certainly entitle her to the special protection of 
St. Ursula. Such a picture, carried by Caterina to 
Bologna, would have no interest for any members of the 
new community with the exception of Illuminata, who 
had also been one of Lucia's maidens, and on Caterina's 

' St. Bridget of Sweden, however, wore a black tunic, white wimple, 
and white veil with red band. St. Rosalia of Palermo wore a black 
XxixM. fastened by a leather belt, a black veil, and white wimple. 


death it may have passed to her friend and successor, 
and from her again, by gift or bequest, to a Venetian 
relative^ or friend, who would prize it for the sake of 
some old memory or association. 

Venice possesses yet another painting ascribed, and 
with great probability, to the Santa. It is stowed away 
in a room above the church of S. Giovanni in Bragora. 
The picture is in four compartments : each contains 
two female martyrs in richly coloured and embroidered 
robes, drawn on a gold background.^ 

The question naturally asked in respect to every 
artist — who was his or her teacher ? — is not answered by 
any of Caterina's biographers. The tradition — founded 
perhaps on a general resemblance in style^that she was 
the pupil of Lippo di Dalmasio, is disproved by a com- 
parison of dates. Probably at the Court of Ferrara she 
had lessons from some deservedly unremembered artist, 
and was for the rest self-taught. It is perhaps an insig- 
nificant, but certainly it is an interesting, coincidence that 
in Ferrara to-day nothing can be found resembling the 
work of Caterina dei Vigri save only some fragments 
in the gallery taken from a demolished church dedicated 
to her patron Saint. Is it, then, a too fanciful conjecture 
that Margherita d'Este's young companion, fired by a 
special devotion for her name-saint, drew her chief 
artistic inspiration from the pictured walls of the church 
of S. Catherine of Alexandria ? 

' The donors to the gallery were the Molins, a very ancient Venetian 

^ One can distinguish S. Margaret, S. Catherine, S. Barbara, and 
perhaps S. Lucy. The faces are pleasing though expressionless. I owe 
the discovery of this picture to a clue kindly given me by Dr. Fogolari of 
the Venetian Accademia. It is not mentioned by the biographers. 


SuOR Illuminata Bembo. Specchio d' Illuminatione sulla 
Vita di Caterina da Bologna. 

(Completed in 1469. The MS. is in the Archivio of the 
convent of Corpus Domini. There is a printed copy in the 
Library of the University of Bologna. The writer has not 
been able to discover any other copy.) 

Sabadini degli Arienti. Biography 4 in Gynevra de le 
Clare Donne. Edited by Corrado Ricci. Curiositd, Letteraria. 

Sabadini's Life of Caterina was published separately in 
1 502 by Zuan Antonio, of Bologna : it was entitled Vita delta 
Beata Catherina Bolognese de lordini de la diva Clara del 
Corpo de Christo. It was republished with thirty-one other 
biographies in the volume called Gynevra de le Clare Donne. 
It reappeared again with a few variations and additions and 
divisions into chapters in 1536. The additions are accounts 
of the numerous miracles "which God has worked by this 
blessed one," with poems and prayers composed by her or 
about her. 

Sabadini's Life and the archives of the convent are the 
Urquelle from which Cristoforo Mansueti and Giacomo 
Grassetti compiled the ajcts for her canonization. 

P. Grassetti. Vita di S. Caterina da Bologna (Bologna, 
1724) treats the subject exhaustively, and contains "The 
Seven Weapons " and Caterina's discourse on poverty. 

The Seven Weapons was published for the first time in 15 10 
by Hieronymo Platone de Benedictis, citadino da Bologna. 
It was republished with the Life of 1536, and has since 
repeatedly reappeared. 



Numerous small biographies of S. Caterina and sermons 
and orations in her honour have been examined. None of 
them add anything to the information obtained from the 
above-mentioned sources, save that a Ferrarese, Bruffaldi, 
writing in the eighteenth century, gives the pedigree of the 
Vigri family. 

For her post-mortem history and the evidence of her 
sanctity : — 

" Congregatione Sacrorum Rituum coram Sanctissimo Card. 
Parpine Bononieii. Canonizationis B. Catharinae a Bononia 
Monialis Professae Ordinis S. Clarae." 

Roma. Ex Typographia Reverendae Camerae Apostolicae 

For an estimate of her work as a painter : — 

Malvasia. Felsina Pittrice, Vol. I. 
TiRABOSCHi. Storia Lett. ItaL, Vol. VI. 
Lanzi. Storia d' Arte, Vol. V. 

Marco Minghetti. Le Donne Italiane mile Belle Arte 

MS. Sources. Dossier, in Archivio Arcivescovile, Bologna, 
labelled " Memorie della Lite et Pretensione de Ferrarese che 
la nostra B. Cat. da Bologna si dovesse chiamare da Ferrara.'' 


caterina's hymn 

Anima benedetta 
Dair alto Creatore, 
Risguarda il tuo Signore, 
Che confitto t' aspetta. 

Risguarda i pie forati 
Confitti da un chiavello, 
Stan cosi tormentati 
Pe' colpi del martello : 
Pensa ch' egli era bello 
Sopra ogni creatura, 
E la sua carne pura 
Era piu che perfetta. 

Anima benedetta, etc. 

Risguarda quella piaga, 
Ch' egli ha dal manco lato, 
Vedi che' 1 sangue paga 
Per tutto il tuo peccato, 
Mira il Cuor trapassato 
Dalla lancia crudele, 
Che per ciascun fedele 
II pass6 la saetta. 

Anima benedetta, etc. 


Risguarda quelle mani 
Sante, che ti plasmaro, 
Vedi come que' cani 
Giudei lo conficcaro : 
Ora con pianto amaro 
Piangi il Signor, che in Croce 
Soffri pena si atroce, 
Perche tu fussi lieta. 

Anima benedetta, etc. 

Mira il capo sacrato, 
Ch' era si di lettoso 
Vedil tutto forato 
Di spine, e sanguinoso ; 
Anima, egli e il tuo Sposo ; 
Dunque perche non piagni, 
Sicchfe piagnendo bagni 
Ogni tua colpa in fretta. 

Anima benedetta, etc. 

Another of Caterina's compositions is of immense 
length and small literary merit. It is a proof that she 
was conversant with the Latin tongue, and had no 
notion of making Latin verses. 

" Desirous of meditating daily," says Father Grassetti, 
" on the Life and Passion of her Redeemer," she com- 
posed a Rosary, which she divided into three parts, 
each part having five subdivisions. There are in all 
five thousand six hundred and ten lines, each ending in 
the syllable "is." Eight of them will probably more 
than satisfy the reader's curiosity. 

O Bone Jesu, nunc libenter te laudarem in terris, 
Et meum post obitum tunc te libentissimfe in Ccelis, 



Cum infinitas laudes k nobis dign^ promerearis. 

Creasti etenim hunc orbem, nunc gubernas, conservasque hunc 

Et quidem in necessitatibus quibuscumque nostris 
Tarn animse, quam corporis, nee unquam nos derelinquis. 
Bed, quod incomparabile est, tu etiam pro omnibus nobis 
Delesti originale peccatum primi parentis. 

The most interesting part of this Rosary is its title, 
which runs as follows : — 

Jesus, Maria, Franciscus, Clara. 

Rosarium antiquum, et devotum Beatissime Matris Dei, 
Virginum Virginis Marise humillimse, purissimae, ac dignissimse, 
non minus historicum, quam contemplativum, ut penitus 
exclusa sint, et intelligantur, si quas apocrapha aliquibus 
fortasse viderentur, a me Catharina Moniali, ac serva vilissima, 
indigna et inutile hie in Conventu Sanctissimi Corporis Christi 
Ferrarise ad Dei Filii et Matris gloriam et honorem, ob 
singularissimam gratiam infrascriptam ibidem nostra in Ecclesia 
genuflexe k me obtentam, inspirat^ conscriptum. 

Jhe reference is to Caterina's Christmas vision. The 

inspirate conscriptum is worth noting. 


Decreto della Canonizazione della Beata Catarina 
emanato a \i Maggio 1707 

Cum in Congregatione general! coram Sanctissimo habita 
die 31 Maii anni 1701 discussum fuisset dubium, An, at de 
quibus Miraculis constaret post indultam Beatae Catharinae de 
Bononia Venerationem : Cumque S.S.D.N. exquisitis Con- 
sultorum, et Eminentissimorum, et Reverendissimorum D.D. 
Sac. Rituum Congregationi Praepositorum Cardinalium suf- 
fragiis, die 5 Mensis Decembris anni 1703 ex octo Miraculis 
h. Postulatoribus allatis, et in discussionem adductis duo 
approbaverit : nempfe. 

Sextum instantaneae Sanationis Sororis Justinae de Calcinis 
Monialis Monasterii S.S. Corporis Christi, k luxatione manus 
a novem mensibus inflexibiles, et a Medecis derilectae. 

Et octauum subitae sanationis Sororis Mariae Gertrudis de 
Ghirardellis Monialis ejusdem Monasterii S.S. Corporis Christi 
k gravissima infirmitate febris cum delirio et lethargo ad dies 
fere sexaginta protracta, et a Medecis deplorata Tandem die 
18 Novembris 1704 denuo accitis consultoribus, et praehabita 
per Eminentissimum et Reverendissimum D. Card, de Carpinea 
ad prescriptum Decretorum plena, ac distincta relatione 
omnium in causa gestorum. Sac. Congregatio unanimi con- 
sensu censuit posse annuente Sanctissimo juxtk Ritum S.R.E. 
et Sacrorum Canonum dispositionem ad solemnem ejusdem 
Beatae Canonizationem quandocumque deveniri. 

Proindeque SS.D.N.PP Clemens XI ut Christi Ecclesia 
Agni Sponsa nouo decore induta in Coelestis Regis oculis 



gratiam inveniat et tamquam Civitas in Monte posita majoribus 
in dies irradiata fulgoribus semitas justorum dirigat, atque iis, 
qui in tenebris ambulant lumen veritatis, et viam salutis 
clarius ostendat, saepius ad Deum fusis, et indictis precibus, 
et pluries Secretario et Pro. Promotore Fidei auditis, prasens 
Canonizationis Decretum expederi et publicari mandavit. 

Die 17 Maii Anni 1707 
G. Card. Carpineus 

Loco + sigilli. B. Inghirami Sac. Rit. Cong. Sec. 




Fero splendor di due begli occhi accrebbe 
Gi^ marmi a marmi ; e stupor nuovo e strano 
Ruvidi marmi delicata mano 
Fea dianzi vivi, ahi ! morte invidia n' ebbe. 

Properzia's Epitaph written by Vincenzo Botmcorso Pitti. 

Le donne son venuti in eccellenza 
Di ciascun' arte ov' hanno posto cura. 

Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, Canto xx. 

A LOVELY highly gifted woman, who is persecuted 
by professional jealousy, is unsuccessful in love, 
and dies at the height of her fame in the hey-day of 
her beauty — have we not here all the elements for 
melodrama and romance? And in truth the story of 
Properzia de' Rossi, so vague in outline, so brilliant 
in colour, has been the subject of a successful tragedy, 
and of much bombastic fiction masquerading in the 
guise of history. 

To avow that Vasari is the sole original source for 
the majority of our facts is equivalent, it will be said by 
superior persons, to proclaiming that Properzia's story 
is a myth. But in defence alike of Vasari and the 
present sketch it must be urged that the worthy painter 
came to Bologna when Properzia lay a-dying, and that 
he heard first-hand the laments and reminiscences of 
her fellow-citizens ; and secondly, that modern in- 



vestigation has reversed the doubts thrown on some 
of his statements concerning her, and amply justified 
his disputed assertions. 

Thus in the Lives of the Painters, Properzia was 
described as the daughter of a Bolognese citizen. 
Alidosa, however, in his Istruzione della Cose notabile 
di Bologna, confidently declared that she was the 
daughter of Giovanni Martino Rossi da Modena. He 
was followed by several subsequent writers, till at 
length an early nineteenth-century biographer,^ chiefly 
on the ground that she is generally styled Madonna 
Properzia, suggested that Rossi was her married, not 
her maiden, name. But that industrious delver among 
civic MSS., Gualandi, has discovered documents of the 
years 1514, 1516, and 1518, in which mention is made 
of "Domina Propertia, filia q. lieronymi de Rubeis 
Bononiae civis," and he believes this Girolamo to have 
been the son of a notary, who in 1480 was living in 
Strada Maggiore (now Via Mazzini), and in 1489 in 
Strada San Donato (Via Zamboni). Thus we may 
once more hold with Vasari that Properzia was a 

The date of her birth is given us neither by Vasari 
nor by any one else : that of her death is fixed unmis- 
takably by a great public event. She died on the day 
of Charles V's coronation by Clement VI I, i.e. February 
the twenty-fourth, 1530. From the amount of work 
she had accomplished and the fact that her admirers 
represented her as cut off in the fullness of her beauty, 
we may conclude that she was not less than twenty- 

' Carolina Bonafede, Cenni Biografici e Ritratti rf* Insipii Donne 


eight or much over thirty when she died, and that her 
birth consequently took place when the fifteenth century 
was very old or the sixteenth very young. 

Beyond the name of her drawing master, we know 
nothing of her education save its results. Vasari says 
that she was highly accomplished in every way and 
especially distinguished for her musical gifts — " singing 
and playing on instruments better than any woman of 
her day in the city of Bologna." 

Now this was very high praise, for Bologna was " in 
her day " the most musical city in Italy. In the middle 
of the fifteenth century it actually possessed a chair of 
music, occupied by a Spaniard, one Bartolomeo Pareia, 
and though for some unknown cause his lectures and 
his office had but a brief existence, its institution is 
significant and probably was not unfruitful. 

The pedantic Achillini in his poem the "Viridario," 
printed in 1530, declares that the city is full of musicians 
who can improvise on any given theme ; that there is a 
sprinkling of more scientific composers and one noted 
authority on counterpoint ; that there are five organists 
of extraordinary skill, players on the lute and on the 
lyre, and one gentle youth who has rare skill upon the 
pipe. No great wedding could be celebrated without 
the accompaniment of a complete orchestra.^ A drum 
and fife band performed daily in the long balcony of the 
palace of the Podesta ; and a certain Ludovico Felicini 
had charming chamber concerts in his house attended 

^ In the Diaiio of Jacopo Rainieri we have a list of instruments in 
general use : " Liuti, vioUe, dolsemelle, ciavasembali, manacorde, organi, 
violunni, pifari, cornitti." 


by all the great people of the city. May we not fancy 
that the gifted Properzia de' Rossi was sometimes heard 
on these occasions ? 

We do not know who were her music masters, but 
we do know that her instructor in drawing was that 
Marc Antonio Raimondi who was Francia's pupil and 
Raphael's friend, who engraved many of the latter's 
pictures " in such a manner that all Rome was thrown 
into amazement," and who figures as one of the bearers 
in the " Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple." It 
was natural that he should set his pupil to copy some 
of Raphael's works, and Vasari, who himself possessed 
some of these copies, tells us that they were extremely 
well done. 

It would seem that at first Properzia, like many 
another gifted young person, was uncertain which of 
Art's paths to pursue, what mode of self-expression to 
make her own. She had that keen, full, rounded sense 
of beauty which makes the perfect dilettante and is 
apt to make the imperfect professional. Such a sense 
was the special dower of the women of the renaissance. 
They played, they sang, they danced, they dabbled in 
the classics, they wrote letters and made verses, and 
were altogether charming companions, excellent critics, 
graceful amateurs. Such was Properzia, and might 
have been no more when, through a mere accident, 
a feminine caprice, the true direction of her genius was 
discovered. The discovery once made, the step from 
the grade of gifted amateur to that of hard-working 
professional was definitely taken. 

It happened on this wise. Properzia took to carving 
the kernels of fruits — apricot and peach and cherry 




stones. At length she produced a crucifixion — the 
central figure, the onlookers, mourners, and executioners 
being grouped in a pleasing composition, and each 
separate figure treated with accuracy and spirit — all 
upon a single peach stone. The subtlety and delicacy 
of the work is described by Vasari as miraculous. In 
the collection of gems in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence 
is a pendant, in the midst of which is set a cherry stone 
carved with about sixty minute heads. It is generally 
attributed to Properzia. An entire series of similar 
carvings in the Museo Civico in Bologna is certainly 
by her hand. It was presented to the city by Conte 
Marsigli, heir of the Grassi family, the original owners. 
Eleven peach stones are set in a device of filigree silver. 
This is suspended so that both sides of the stones can 
be seen. Unfortunately the device cannot be removed 
from its place and examined by a window, and the 
room is badly lighted ; so that the minute carvings can 
be better studied in some engravings published and 
described in 1829. {Descrizione di alcuni minutissimi 
intagli di mano di Properzia de' Rossi, by Bianconi and 
Canuti.) On one side of the stones are eleven apostles, 
each with his name and a clause of the Apostles' Creed ; 
on the other side are virgin saints, each with a motto 
alluding to her special virtue or attribute. 

We do not know when Properzia exchanged her 
delicate knives and needles for mallet and chisel, or by 
what transitional stages she passed from her "feminine 
accomplishments " to professional labour hitherto mono- 
polized by the sterner sex. But this is certain : the 
second decade of the sixteenth century finds her 
equipped for competition with the first sculptors of 


the day, and with a budding, but not yet assured, repu- 

She must have carved something more than fruit 
stones before, in the year 1524, the Vice- Legate invited 
her to decorate the canopy of the high altar in the 
church he had just restored outside the gate of 
S. Stefano. Properzia joyfully undertook the commis- 
sion, and a more beautiful specimen of the best period 
of renaissance carving can hardly be conceived than the 
lovely intertwining of flambeaux and birds' heads, of 
fruit and foliage and sphinxes, which wreathes the altar 
arch in the church of S. Maria del Baraccano. 

About this time (whether a little before or a little 
after her work in the church without the walls is un- 
certain) there came to Properzia, as to all other young 
sculptors in Bologna, a unique opportunity for making 
money and a name. 

In the last decade of the fourteenth century the 
Bolognese, fired by the architectural achievements 
of Florence, determined to build a church which should 
exceed in size and splendour the lately completed Santa 
Maria del Fiore, which boasted itself the largest of 
Italian churches. 

In February, 1390, the Council of Six Hundred 
ordered Antonio Vincenzio to prepare a design. In 
June the work of construction and destruction had 
begun. The two arms of the immense Latin cross were 
to abut on spacious piazzas, so there was a wholesale 
and most sanitary clearing of unsavoury alleys and 
crowded tenements, together with the demolition of eight 
churches and some of the hundred towers ^ with which 

^ See Gozzadini in / Torri ,Gentilizie di Bologna. The two famous 
leaning towers, Asinelli and Garisenda, remain as specimens. 


the fourteenth-century city bristled. The work of con- 
struction was necessarily less rapid, and little by little 
its pace slackened, till in 1659 it came altogether 
to a standstill, and has never since been resumed. 
S. Petronio, as we know it, represents but one-half 
of Vincenzio's original design, and ends abruptly with 
an apse where the arms of the Latin cross should have 

Even this half is imperfect in decoration. The western 
fagade, which was to have been its peculiar glory, which 
Jacopo della Querela came from Aries to begin, and 
from which the youthful Michael Angelo drew inspira- 
tion, remains unfinished, in spite of the fifty designs for 
its completion which repose in the museum of the 
church. At the beginning of the sixteenth century 
there was, however, a flicker-up of zeal. It was pro- 
nounced to be a civic disgrace that while the central 
western portal was glorious with Jacopo di Quercia's 
work, the lateral doors should remain bare, ugly, and 
insignificant. The administrators of the fabric pre- 
pared to act with vigour. They invited the sculptors of 
the city to compete for work and to send in specimens 
of their skill. 

This is the chance of a lifetime for Properzia. She 
quietly places herself among the ranks of male pro- 
fessional artists, and enters on the path hitherto un- 
trodden by women's feet, and rarely since her day 
successfully pursued by them. Her test-work was a 
likeness of Count Guido Pepoli — perhaps the bust 
preserved in the first room of the Museo della Fabbrica, 
but more probably a basso-relievo discovered in the 
middle of the last century in a villa of the Pepoli. 


It has been argued that Properzia's carving in the 
church of the Baraccano must have been executed after 
this event, for, had it been anterior, no test-virork would 
have been required of her. But, in truth, no such 
positive inference can be drawn from the requirements 
of the administrators. Red-tape existed even in the 
sixteenth century, and the carving in the Baracano — a 
conventional design of intertwining fruit, flowers, foliage, 
and birds — gave no guarantee that Properzia was capable 
of dealing with the human form. 

Vasari tells us that the bust not only satisfied the 
administrators but "delighted the whole city" — a little 
touch revealing that solidarity of civic life and intelligent 
general interest in artistic and architectural matters 
which was so marked a feature of the Italian city-state 
and is so conspicuously absent in the modern town. 

We do not know what portion of the work upon the 
great west front of S. Petronio was assigned to Pro- 
perzia de' Rossi, nor do the registers of the Fabbrica 
greatly help us. They contain, however, the following 
entries : — 

"June I, 1525. To Madonna Properzia de' Rossi, 
lire II for a Sibyl in marble executed by her. 

"September 8, 1525. To Madonna Properzia de' 
Rossi for an Angel executed by her, 10 lire and 
19 soldi. 

"August 4, 1526. To Properzia, 40 lire and 3 soldi 
for the remaining two Sibyls, an Angel, and two 
pictures." ^ 

' The writer was unable to inspect the MSS. of the registers. The 
entries quoted above come from Dafia's accurate ancj detailed study, 
" Sculture delle Forte di San Petronio." 




We do not know what has become of the sibyls. 
The angels are doubtless those in the chapel of Tribolo's 
Assumption, the eleventh off the nave to the right from 
the west entrance. They are graceful figures, but are 
rather thin for their height, and do not quite correspond 
with the great reputation of the sculptress. Vasari, 
however, tells us that Properzia was not responsible for 
their proportions, but worked from Tribolo's models. 

The pictures were probably the bas-reliefs in the 
museum of S. Petronio. They represent the visit of the 
Queen of Sheba to Solomon, and Joseph and Potiphar's 
wife. In the first the king sits on his throne, his 
guards and great men around him. A figure kneels at 
his feet, offering a garment of needlework. The Queen 
and her maidens stand respectfully aloof. In the second 
Joseph turns from the temptress, who, seated at the end 
of a canopied couch, lays a detaining hand upon his 
flying cloak. The picture expresses natural, vigorous 
movement and action, but withal without violence or 
contortion. The gestures are graceful, the harmony 
of line unbroken. We perceive that Properzia has 
been studying classical models. 

Glancing backwards with the mind's eye to Caterina 
dei Vigri's "Madonna of the Apple," we measure the 
pace at which Art has travelled. Between the work of 
our first two women artists of Bologna lie, to use the 
famous formula of Michelet, "the discovery of the 
world and the discovery of man." Yet, paradoxical 
though it seem, the primitive Italian Madonnas and 
their Byzantine forerunners had something of the 
essential spirit of antiquity which the classical imita- 
tions of the sixteenth and seventeenth century did not 


possess. For Greek pagan sculpture at its best, and 
Greek Christian painting even at its worst, strove to 
express the abstract and the permanent as opposed to 
all that was merely personal and momentary. Then 
came the struggle of medieval introspectiveness and 
lively religious faith against the bonds of Byzantine 
conventionalism. The actors in Sacred Story were con- 
ceived and portrayed as men of like clothes and 
passions with the artist, — though perhaps of rather 
different anatomy ; till, in due time, the social organism 
was reinvigorated by the strong wind of Humanism 
setting from Constantinople. Men bared their heads to 
the breeze, and drew the intoxicating draughts into 
their lungs. Pallid monastic fears were dispersed, the 
cobwebs of scholasticism were blown away. " The 
shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades" 
became a source of unforbidden joy, and it was freely 
recognized that 

If you get sense of beauty and naught else 
You get about the best thing God invents. 

But the intellectual awakening of the renaissance was 
penetrated by the inwardness and introspection of the 
days preceding it ; and thus was generated an abnormal 
development of individuality which was really fatal to 
a re-creation of the spirit or art of antiquity. Man, by 
the laws of nature, is " heir of all the ages," and cannot, 
however much he may wish it, cut off the entail. To 
the race, as to the individual, rare moments may be 
given in middle life when the world is viewed anew with 
the fresh and fearless vision of a child. But to both 
youth comes but once, nor have any been permitted to 


retrace Time's stream towards its source. Self-conscious- 
ness is the burden of sane maturity, and the men and 
women of the renaissance steeped themselves in pagan 
culture only to quicken the self-consciousness which was 
commensurate with their immense vitality. As they 
understood the richness of their heritage the desire to 
enjoy it to the utmost grew apace. Their passion for 
self-realization was a flame consuming all the barriers 
of morality. Their egotism was insatiable and un- 
abashed. The moment and the actual meant so much, 
that the abstract and eternal were ignored. The 
repose, simplicity, and objectiveness of the "older 
world " and its art were as remote from them as from 
the modern American of fashion. 

Let us now glance again at Properzia's bas-relief, 
and note how in all respects it is characteristic of the 
art and spirit of her time. 

Secular art does not yet go abroad naked and un- 
ashamed : therefore she takes for her nominal subject a 
Bible story. Biblical archaeology is still in the womb 
of time : therefore, as was expected of her, she provides 
classical costumes and mise en scene. And with this 
sacred pretext, and this Greek disguise, she tells a 
modern love story, nay, if Vasari's gossip is to be be- 
lieved, her own, giving us in the woman an auto-ritratto, 
and in the man a portrait .of her lover. 

One of her biographers — Carolina Bonafede — indig- 
nantly repudiates this on dit as unimaginably incon- 
sistent with womanly reticence and proper pride. To 
the present writer it seems perfectly consistent with all 
that we know of Properzia and the society of her day. 
" It is not too niuch to say " — this is the late Mr. 



Addington Symond's summing-up against that society 
— " it is not too much to say that neither public nor 
private morality, in our sense of the word, existed." 
And if there be any fact more patent to the student of 
this period than the one thus emphatically stated, it is 
that what we mean by reticence was an utterly un- 
known quality. The only sensations it was held 
becoming — especially in the male sex — to conceal were 
physical fear and pain. For the rest the suppression 
of emotion was a proof of callousness or guile — an 
opinion still in some measure prevalent among Latin 
peoples. Men gazed on all the facts of human life 
with a frank childish curiosity, blinking none of them, 
holding none of them common or unclean ; and free- 
dom of speech was the natural correlative of this 
fearless vision. See how Vasari records what he hears 
of his heroine's amour. He writes of it as his con- 
temporaries spoke of it, not as a scandal to be told 
in whispers, but as an ordinary, if pitiful, incident to 
be discussed at the family dinner-table with brutal sim- 
plicity. He greatly pities the fair and gifted lady who 
was " successful in all things but love," and he does 
not strike the faintest note of blame, contempt, in- 
credulity, or extenuation. 

One half of Vasari's report of the fact of the amour 
has been corroborated, if not actually confirmed, by the 
documentary researches of Gualandi. A certain Fran- 
cesco da Milano, described as a velvet merchant, brings 
an action against Properzia for damage done to his 
garden which adjoins her own. He describes her as the 
" mistress of Anton Galeazzo di Napoleone Malvasia." 
Anton Galeazzo denies the charge, and incidentally 


declares that he lives at a distance from Properzia. 
The plea was dismissed from the criminal to the civil 
court. On April 12, 1521, Anton Galeazzodi Napoleone 
Malvasia and Properzia dei Rossi are again summoned : 
the action is again suspended ; and then we hear no 
more of it, the parties concerned probably coming to 
an amicable understanding. 

The information afforded by this case is tantalizingly 
vague and insufficient ; but at least these three facts 
emerge from it : — First : Properzia's address, which we 
learn from no other source, and which shows us that the 
" distance " at which Anton Galeazzo resided from her 
was about three minutes' walk.^ 

Secondly : The existence of some kind of connexion 
between them, and his joint responsibility for damage 
done to adjacent property. 

Thirdly : The popular belief as to the nature of that 
connexion. It is possible, of course, that this belief was 
a crude misrepresentation of a flirtation which was a 
pastime for the man and the " whole existence " of the 
woman ; or of one of those platonic friendships which, in 
the case of young and handsome persons of artistic and 
ardent temperament, usually end in the misery of one 
or the other. It is possible also that the damages done 
to Francesco da Milano's garden were the outcome of a 
gay party at Properzia's house, when Anton Galeazzo 
was the ringleader in some of the intolerable and in- 

' The velvet merchant, and consequently Properzia also, lived in the 
Via S. Lorenzo, a narrow turning out of the Via delle Casse, which 
leaves the Via Ugo Bassi opposite the Hotel Brun. At the end of the 
Via delle Casse we reach the bank of the Canal of the Reno. Here, 
between the Via delle Casse and the Via delle Lame, was the Malvasia 


credible horseplay which was so frequently the recrea- 
tion of the fashionable society of the day. Such 
suppositions are perfectly compatible with Vasari's 
story as to the bas-relief and Properzia's broken heart. 
But the velvet merchant's accusation remains — an accu- 
sation not made in an anonymous or private letter, but 
written by a notary's pen as the formal description of a 
person sued for damages. Anton Galeazzo's denial of 
connexion with Properzia is subtly worded. It is not 
retrospective, and may mean anything or nothing. 

Three years after the close of this incident Anton 
Galeazzo took his bachelor's degree (1524). Two years 
later again Properzia was paid for her " pictures." 
Some time, then, between 1524 and 1526 their relations 
were severed, doubtless by the natural development of 
the career of a well-educated young man of good 
family. Of Anton Galeazzo di Napoleone Malvasia we 
know nothing more, save that he married in September, 
1538, when Properzia had been eight years in her grave. 

Another action brought against Properzia corrobo- 
rates another of Vasari's statements, He says that she 
was persecuted by the mean and jealous painter, Amico 
Aspertini, who maligned her to the administrators of 
S. Petronio, and caused the price of her work to fall ; 
and that on this account she gave up sculpture and 
took to engraving on copper, which she did to great per- 
fection. Now in January, 1525, an action was brought 
against Properzia and a painter named Domenico 
Francia by another painter, Vincenzo Miola. The two 
had come to his house, he complained, and had abused 
and attacked him, Properzia scratching his face. One 
of the witnesses against the accused was Amico Aspertini. 


After this show of weapons and flourish of trumpets 
the plaintiff doubtless accepted some small compensa- 
tion for the injuries to his visage and his sensibilities. 
There is at least no further record of proceedings. But 
what a pleasing side-light is thrown on the manners and 
customs of sixteenth-century Bohemia ! And how 
familiar is the scene which it illumines ! The angry 
voices and excited gestures, the torrent of select insults, 
the clenched fists, the feline fury of the woman ; the 
threat " to make a process " ; the initial steps towcirds 
the realization of that-threat, shortly succeeded by con- 
viction that money will be saved by mutual capitulation ; 
then the dismounting of both parties from their high 
horses, followed by prolonged bargaining, the balance 
being held by some wily avvocato ; lastly, the hand- 
shaking, smiles, bows, and complimenti, servo suo and 
riverisco and di nuovo of polite leave-taking — most 
dwellers in Italy have witnessed repetitions of this 
little bit of low comedy. 

But one would fain know what was the subject of this 
quarrel between Properzia and' Miola, whether the latter 
was Master Amico's tool and accomplice, and whether 
Domenico Francia was the disinterested champion of so 
fair and persecuted a fellow-artist. One is tempted to 
hope that the ugly and malicious Amico came in for a 
share of Properzia's summary revenge, since from all 
accounts the words of Shakespeare's Beatrice might 
have been applied to him : " Scratching could not make 
it worse an' 'twere such a face as yours." 

This ill-conditioned fellow had doubtless no grudge 
against Properzia beyond the fact that she was an 
artist of rare talent. To suppose that he disapproved 


of female competition and was indignant that a woman 
should have a share in the work going forward on the 
west front of S. Petronio is to endow the sixteenth 
century with one of the most curious and ugly features 
of recent times. For " the notion of rivalry between 
the sexes " is, as Bishop Creighton has pointed out,^ as 
foreign to the Italian Renaissance as that of " rivalry 
between classes in the State. All were at liberty to do 
their best." Only here and there a dog in the manger 
like Master Amico snarled sullenly at superiority of any 
kind, — " never," says Vasari, " speaking well of any one, 
however distinguished by excellence and ability, or 
however well endowed whether by virtue or the gift of 
fortune." This lack of magnanimity accompanied by 
various eccentricities made him an object of general 
ridicule and dislike. He was an industrious and facile 
worker, had travelled much and made an immense 
number of copies and models. These, however, he 
always destroyed in order that no other artist might 
benefit by them. As an assistance to rapid execution 
he was wont to gird himself with a leather belt hung 
round with little paint pots and bottles. Then he would 
sit down, his great spectacles on his nose, and begin to 
paint with both hands at once, chatting all the while 
like a parrot — " a figure," says Vasari, " to make stones 
laugh." One is not surprised to learn that in advanced 
age he became quite insane. 

Properzia was doubtless in no mood to humour or 
propitiate this incipient madman. Stings and pricks 
ignored in days of happiness are felt acutely when the 
heart is sore. A profession may often be an excellent 

' "A Learned Lady," in Historical Essays and Reviews, 


substitute for a husband, and may become an idol on 
whose shrine all the aiifections of a life are laid. In 
nine cases out of ten, moreover, the " labour we delight 
in '' does " physic pain " ; but in the tenth case there 
may be no reserve of physical energy necessary for 
reorientation. Sorrow and disappointment may beget, 
and in turn be nourished by, bodily disease ; and that 
useful remedy, change of air and scene, so readily pre- 
scribed and taken in our own day, was not available to 
a woman of Properzia's class and time. One move, 
however, she at length made, exchanging the house and 
garden in the Via S. Lorenzo for a dwelling in a very 
central situation. The beginning of the year 1530 
found her lying sick in the Spedale della Morte. 

This admirable institution owed its name of ill-omen 
to the origin of the society from whose work it sprang. 
The Confraternity of Death represented the efforts of 
certain devout persons to meet for the love of God 
some obvious needs of their fellow-men. In days when 
street frays and nocturnal assassinations, conspiracies 
and their discovery, were common occurrences, these 
persons dedicated a portion of their wealth and time to 
attendance on condemned criminals,^ the nursing of the 
injured, and the burial of the dead. The work steadily 
expanded, changing its character with the varying 
requirements of successive generations ; till by the 
sixteenth century the nursing of the sick had become the 
raison d'itre of the society, their hospital a school of 
medicine, and their premises a large block of buildings 
lying between the Via Clavatura and the Archiginnasio, 

' See Appendix to this part of the work. 


with an entrance on the great Piazza.^ The members 
of the Confraternity no longer gave personal service in 
the wards. A Rector, a Prior, and Administrators 
appointed a Warden who was responsible for the 
internal administration. There was an established 
hierarchy of male and female nurses, a chaplain, visiting 
physicians, house surgeons, students, and an apothecary 
— in fact, in embryo, all the paraphernalia of the modern 
hospital system. 

But neither here, nor in any other hospital until very 
recent times, were there rooms for paying patients 
possessing relatives and means, who could well be 
nursed at home if sickness were not such an inconvenient 
interruption of the household's money-getting, pleasure- 
seeking routine. Properzia's presence in the Ospedale 
della Morte indicates one of two things — poverty or 
absolute friendlessness. 

As she lay in the women's ward sick unto death, the 
sound of many voices and of many feet must have 
reached her from the Great Piazza near at hand.^ All 
her old associates were active and bustling. Master 
Amico was erecting an immense triumphal arch in the 
Piazza. Other artists were decorating a temporary 
wooden bridge which should unite the Sala degli 
Anziani and the great west door of S. Petronio ; and 

' The Farmacia and the Portico della Morte still mark the site of the old 
Spedale, which was the city hospital till the year 1801. Then a new 
building rose on the banks of the Reno, and its revenues were mingled 
with those of the Confraternity, whose oratory in the Via Clavatura is now 
the office of the administration of the hospital and also its " Archivio." 

° We have the most detailed information as to the occurrences and cere- 
monial of these days from Giovio and from the Bolognese Cardinal, Ugo 
Buoncompagni, afterwards Pope Gregory XIII. 




the administrators of the building were arranging and 
adorning the vast church against the day when Charles V 
should receive at the hands of the Pontiff, whom three 
years earlier he had humbled to the dust, the crown and 
sceptre which twenty-six years later he voluntarily laid 

For days the narrow, roughly-paved, arcaded streets 
must have echoed to the roll of lumbering coaches and 
the tramp of horses' feet as the imperial troops marched 
into the city, and the representatives of foreign powers 
and the rulers of Italian States arrived to honour or 
propitiate the spiritual and temporal potentates who 
had been in Bologna since the previous October. 

Did Properzia realize the meaning of these sounds, 
and ask her nurses and physicians for news of what was 
passing in the world without? Or did the tumult 
merely strike upon her fevered brain with a vague sense 
of unintelligible suffering ? Was the sleep which comes 
with the dawn after a restless night disturbed at day- 
break on the Feast of S. Matthias (24 February) by 
the clang of bells from every church tower in Bologna ? 
Or was her hold on life so far relaxed that all the 
voices of this world seemed blurred and dulled as echoes 
from a distant shore ? 

Vasari, though he was a unit in the crowd which 
employment, or hope of it, brought to Bologna at this 
time, tells us few out of the many things we would fain 
know concerning the last days of this unhappy, highly 
gifted woman. But this he does relate : — 

The business of the great day was over. For the first 
time a king of the Romans had been crowned with the 
imperial diadem outside the walls of Rome ; for the last 


time in history the medieval Empire had received the 
papal benediction. Clement VII must have retired to 
his apartments well pleased with the result of negotia- 
tions which had secured the supremacy of Spain and the 
Papacy in Italy, and made its smaller states his vassals. 
But true, though base-born,^ Medici that he was, he did 
not dwell on matters of statecraft, but prepared to 
recreate himself with thoughts of art. He had heard 
much, he said (perhaps from Marc Antonio in Rome), 
of one Properzia di Rossi, a sculptress. He would like 
to have converse with her. Could she be summoned 
and presented to him ? 

Inquiries were made, but the reply was unfavourable. 
It was most unfortunate, but His Holiness was just too 
late. Another Potentate, mightier than Pope or Em- 
peror, had forestalled him. Properzia had died ^ that 
morning in the Ospedale della Morte. 

' Clement VII was the illegitimate son of Lorenzo's brother Giuliano, 
assassinated by the Pazzi. 

" There is some uncertainty as to her place of burial. Vasari says that 
by her own request she was buried in the Spedale della Morte. By this 
he must mean one of the hospital cemeteries, or the Confraternity church 
of S. Maria della Vita in the Via Clavatura. He tells us that her fellow- 
citizens, who had never been slow to recognize her merit, mourned her 


The main authority for the life of Properzia de' Rossi is 

Vasari. Vol. V (Firenze, 1878). 

All other sketches and notices in the biographies of artists 
or hand-books of art are repetitions of Vasari's facts. 

Fresh discoveries from contemporary legal documents have, 
however, been made and published by 

GuALANDi, Memorte intorno a Properzia di Rossi, Osser- 
vatore Bolognese, Numeri 33, 34, 35 (1851), and Memorte 
delle Belle Arti, Serie V ; and something has been drawn from 
the rolls of the Fabbrica by 

Davia, Sculture delle Porte di S. Petronio. 

Nothing really new is contributed by 

Saffi, Discorsa^intorno a Properzia d^ Rossi (1832); or by 

Carolina Bonafede, Cenni Biografici e Ritratti d' Insigiii 
Donne Bolognese (1845). 

For engravings of her work, see 
Cicognara, Storia della Scultura, I, 11. 

BiANCONi and Canuti, Descrizione di alcuni minutissimi 
intagli di mano di Properzia de" Rosse (1829). 



THE "comforting" OF CRIMINALS 

On the day of execution the members of the Confraternity 
of Death accompanied the criminal to the west door of 
S. Petronio, where he heard mass. Then the procession 
walked round the Piazza and proceeded eastwards, in the 
direction of the modern railway station, to the market-place 
(now Piazza dell' otto Agosto), where they had built a little 
church "dedicated to the decapitation of S. John Baptist." 
In this church the condemned man heard mass for the second 
time. He was then conducted to the Monte del Mercato 
(now Montagnola), the place of execution. When he laid his 
head upon the block, the member of the Confraternity whose 
office was that of " Confortatore " held before his eyes a little 
picture (tavoletta) which might bring some images of hope 
before the mind of him who was about to be sent so rudely 
from this world ; and the " Comforter " was instructed not to 
withdraw the tavoletta till the blow fell, "so that he who 
must die need not perceive its withdrawal." If the criminal 
were hanged, not beheaded, the " Comforter " was bidden to 
mount the steps of the gallows and hold the tavoletta before 
his eyes till the moment he was pushed off, and then to cry to 
him to think upon Christ's passion and call upon the Mother 
of Sorrows. The night after the execution some of the 
brethren came and removed the corpse for burial. This pity 
and consideration for condemned criminals shines brightly in 
a world of barbarous punishments and furious retaliations. 
In 1331 the Confortatori were given by the Pope the privi- 



lege of releasing on the day of San Rocco one prisoner under 
sentence of death. 

The statutes and regulations of the hospital, which became 
in later times the chief work of the Confraternity, are very 
interesting reading. Some of these regulations, notably those 
dealing with visiting hours and food introduced by patients' 
relatives, have a curiously modern sound; but the spirit of 
religious tenderness and of minute care for economy, which is 
noticeable in all of them, cannot be said to have many 
modern parallels. The life, conduct, outgoings and incomings 
of the medical students, who were not taken under the age of 
fourteen, were regulated with great exactness, as were their 
relations to physicians and patients. One curious rule declares 
that the gratuities given to their instructors were the perquisite 
of the first surgeon, who was however obliged on the Feasts of 
Christmas and Easter to make a gift of eatables to the second 
surgeon. The students, if Bolognese, were allowed only a 
fortnight's holiday in the year, \i forestiere, one month. 

The hospital was pre-eminently for accident and emergency 
cases : the administration was forbidden to refuse any accident 
case, and to keep two or three beds always vacant and ready. 
Infectious and incurable diseases were refused, and it is note- 
worthy that phthisis was placed in the former category. — 
Regole e Capitoli da osservari da i ministri e serventi delP 
Ospitale di Santa Maria della Morte. Bologna. Per Gaspara 
de Franceschi. 




This is her picture as she was : 
It seems a thing to wonder on, 
As though mine image in the glass 
Should tarry when myself am gone. 
I gaze until she seems to stir, — 

And yet the earth is over her. 

D. G. ROSSETTI, TTie Portrait. 

IN the first of the four rooms in the Uffizi Gallery 
which are devoted to the portraits of artists painted 
by themselves, there hangs, " skyed," and in a bad light, 
the picture of a figure in rich severe dress, with a round 
white ruff, and dark smooth hair melting into a dark 
background, whose sex can hardly be determined with- 
out reference to the catalogue. And if a bright light 
or Brogi's excellent photograph enables us to examine 
this picture more minutely, we shall see that not the 
accessories alone, but also the countenance has a 
curiously hermaphrodite character. The upper half of 
the face — the straight, rather thick nose, the strongly 
marked eyebrows, the high cheek-bones — is distinctly 
man-like. The lower half — the large flexible mouth, 
the plump chin, the rounded jaw — is altogether femi- 
o 193 


nine. Eyes and mouth both smile ; but the smiles have 
different meanings. The eyes are shrewd, intelligent, 
humorous, critical. The mouth droops with a gentle 

Yet in spite of its complexity, the face is reassuring. 
It at least does not suggest any baffling gulf between 
the artist and her work. It harmonizes with the little 
that we know of Lavinia Fontana's life, and with all 
that her painting reveals of her personality. It is the 
face of a woman one could do business with, capable of 
looking after her own interests, but incapable of heart- 
less dealing. It is the face of a woman who smiles at, 
but also with, the world ; who is never blind to the fail- 
ings of her friends, but who regards them with kindly 
tolerance. It is the face of a woman with a refined, but 
not a sensitive, nature ; who cherishes few ideals in 
respect to either art or life, but in both has a keen eye 
for values. It is -the face of a woman who has reached 
"the middle of the pathway of our life," who is well 
content with her journey, and who has travelled the 
easier for being unweighted with the impedimenta of 
good looks. Lavinia Fontana, if not positively plain, 
had none of Properzia's classical beauty nor Elisa- 
betta Sirani's pretty grace. She was neither capable 
of inspiring nor of feeling a great passion ; but she 
attracted many suitors and married a good husband. 
She alone of the four artists whose lives are here 
recorded experienced all the phases of a normal 
woman's life, and enjoyed an existence of common- 
place happiness. 

The happiness was, of course, not unclouded. Her 
middle life must have been shadowed by the financial 


difficulties of her father's old age ; and we know that 
her husband was stupid, that her only son was posi- 
tively wanting, and that her elder daughter became 
blind through an accident in childhood. But her male 
relatives, if foolish, were fond ; and against maternal 
anxieties she could set the advantage of a cheerful 
temper, the inalienable possession of a happy youth, 
and the boon of professional occupation. 

All three gifts she owed to her father, Prospero, a 
genial good-hearted man, and a singularly successful, 
though really mediocre, painter. His master was 
Innocenzo da Imola, whose virtues he caught and 
retained, but whose defects he exaggerated. Leaving 
him while still a mere youth, Prospero proceeded to 
Rome with an introduction to Michael Angelo, who 
received him kindly and presented him to the Pope. 
From this time onward he continuously enjoyed papal 
favour, and from Julius III he received a pension of 
three hundred scudi a year.^ 

When barely forty, he returned to his native city, 
married, and settled down to a life of ease and comfort. 
He was an intelligent man, with great social talents. 
He had travelled with observation, had acquired a 
smattering of classical learning and antiquarian know- 
ledge, and possessed a showy acquaintance with what 
Oretti terms " the fables of sacred and profane history." 
He was moreover an excellent cicerone, knowing 
au fond the story and the treasures of his native 

' Oretti, Pitlori, t. II, Gozzadini MS. (122), says that Prospero was 
" provisionato " and made Pittore Palatino by this Pope. There is 
mention too of another pension of five scudi a month for the maintenance 
of his family. 


city. Best of all he had the faculty — which he trans- 
mitted to his daughter — of making many friends and 
few enemies, and of enjoying prosperity without exciting 
envy. Such a faculty implies not only personal charm 
— though that too must be present — but also a nice 
blending of qualities and a rare balance of character 
and manner. Consciousness of merit must be shown 
without arrogance, generosity without patronage. A 
^tact-producing sensitiveness to the opinion and suscepti- 
■- bilities of others must co-exist with a skin too thick to 
feel gnat-stings, and a nervous system too healthy to 
quiver under imaginary wrongs. 

Little by little the Fontana dwelling became the 
rendezvous not only of artists, but also of men of 
letters and dilettanti of all kinds ; and of this circle the 
master of the house was not only the centre, but also 
" the oralcle and judge," so that, according to Malvasia," 
" it was held sacrilegious to disobey his counsels or 
dissent or appeal from them." His repeated election 
as Massero or Steward of the Artists' Guild was but the 
outward and visible sign of the position tacitly accorded 
to him. 

Now it happened that when Prospero had been 
settled for some nine or ten years in Bologna, the 
progress of the great public works brought together 
within its walls a rare company of foreign architects^ 
and artists, with a crowd of lesser craftsmen of skill 
and talent. 

Bologna was rich with the prosperity of fifty peaceful 
years of stable government. The papal rule, which 

' By which I mean "forestieri" from other Italian cities. 


began in 1506 and lasted till the French Revolution, 
suited her well. It preserved her from internecine strife 
and Milanese rapacity ; while allegiance to a distant 
power was always more congenial to her temper than 
submission to a native despot. Even a republic must 
have a visible and ornamental head, and she was always 
well content to receive and do honour to a Legate who 
" reigned but did not govern." In the year 1 560, the 
man who filled this office was the Pope's sister's son, the 
young and saintly Carlo Borromeo ; and in Bologna, 
as elsewhere, his energies were chiefly directed to two 
objects — the reformation of ecclesiastical abuses and 
the amelioration of the condition of the poor. A year 
of terrible dearth was occasioning great distress among 
the people ; — but the city treasury was full. San Carlo 
accordingly determined to provide bread for the starving 
by carrying into effect his uncle's cherished scheme of 
providing the scattered " Scuole " of Bologna with a 
single worthy habitation. Thus, in the year 1561, the 
first and nobler^ home of the University of Bologna 
was begun as a relief-work. 

It was finished in a single year, and must have 
furnished a livelihood to a multitude of unemployed. 
It was faced by the fine colonnade which is to-day 
the Bond Street of Bologna — the Pavaglione ; while 
the following year (1563) a block of old houses on the 
north side of S. Petronio was demolished to form the 
open space, now named after the ugly statue of Gal- 
vani in its midst, but originally known as the Piazza 

' In 1803 the University was united to the Istituto delle Scienze and 
transferred to the Palazzo . Poggi in the Via Zamboni. The beautiful 
Archiginnasio is now occupied by the Communal Library. 


deir Accademia. Borromeo's architect was Francesco 
Terribilia, who had just completed the adjoining 
Portico della Morte. 

On the other side of this portico another work was 
proceeding. The northern side of the Piazza Maggiore 
(now the inevitable Vittorio Emanuele) was assuming 
its present dignified aspect under the direction of Jacopo 
Barozzi da Vignola. With a minimum of destruction, 
and much skilful uniting and reconstructing of existing 
houses — traces of which appear in the unequal windows 
— Vignola created an imposing block of buildings 
faced with the fine Portico dei Banchi.^ 

Again, on the opposite side of the great piazza a 
third work was in progress, so that all the centre of the 
city, between the years 1560 and 1563, must have rung 
with the sound of axes and hammers. The Piazza del 
Nettuno, with its great fountain, which seems to the 
modern Bolognese almost as characteristic a feature of 
their city as the two towers, was now coming into being. 
An island of mean houses was demolished, and the work 
of construction was then entrusted to a Sicilian artist, 
Tomaso Laureti. The Sicilian divided the lower part 
of the fountain among three young sculptors, and en- 
trusted its canalization^ to an architect named Grisante ; 
but for an artist worthy to execute the colossus which 
was to surmount it, he journeyed across the Apennines 
to Florence to bring back with him that John of Douay 

' This portico meeting the Portico della Morte, which again joins the 
Pavaglione, forms an unbroken colonnade from the Via Farina to the 
Via Orefici. 

^ Water was brought from a spring found to the south-west of the city. 
Now the water is from the aqueduct of the Setta. 


who ever after the completion of his chef d'ceuvre was 
known as Giam Bologna.^ 

The progress of great public works such as these 
must have occasioned a perfect ferment of expectation 
and discussion among the art-loving inhabitants of an 
Italian sixteenth-century city. The reunions in the 
house of Prospero Fontana must have been unusually 
animated and interesting; and his little daughter 
Lavinia, watching the strangers passing up her father's 
stairs and sipping wine round his table, listening to the 
criticism of little groups and to the general chorus of 
mutual admiration, hearing each difficulty surmounted 
described as a famous victory, and completion cele- 
brated as an event of world-wide importance, must have 
become acquainted early with the charms and failings, 
the naive egotism, the ever-youthful enthusiasm of the 
artistic temperament, and have accumulated between 
her ninth and eleventh years a series of indelible and 
educative impressions. 

Her father's hospitality was becoming more and more 
lavish, and doubtless many a needy artist preyed on his 
good-nature. "Visse allo^grande e trattosi bene " — he 
lived like a lord and did himself well — is Oretti's com- 
prehensive description of Prospero's housekeeping. He 
enjoyed entertaining his friends handsomely, and he 
liked now and then to give away a picture and make a 
present of a portrait. Such acts of lavishness and 
display were but the natural expressions of a careless 

^ Two arches of the partially-finished portico of the Pavaglione were 
walled up to form Giam Bologna's workshop. There, aided by a skilful 
modeller and caster named Zanobi Fortigiani, he worked at the great 
Neptune with his attendant sirens, water-babies, and dolphins. 


generosity of temperament, which in art revealed itself 
in copiousness of invention, slovenliness of treatment, 
an almost Venetian opulence of colour, and extraordi- 
nary rapidity of execution. It is said that he painted 
in eighteen days that chapel in the Palazzo Pubblico 
where Charles V had received the iron crown of Lom- 
bardy prior to his coronation ; and this, and similar 
tours de force, won for him a cheap popularity which 
continually spurred him to greater speed of production. 
His facility, a proof of indolence rather than of activity, 
grew like an insidious malady consuming his power of 
taking pains, and thus exposing him in advanced life to 
the attacks of the laborious eclectic school. 

Already in his studio Prospero was hatching the ser- 
pents who would later sting him to death. His pupils^ 
were at one time numerous, and many of them after- 
wards became famous — in spite, as they averred, rather 
than through the aid of their master. And indeed a 
man of Prospero's temperament is necessarily an in- 
different teacher. The possessor of great natural quick- 
ness and acquired facility is apt to be intolerant of 
a beginner's maladroitness ; and he whose stock of 
patience does not suffice for the perfecting of his own 
work has little to spare for the blundering efforts of a 
conscientious learner. 

Such a learner was Lodovico Carracci ; and one day his 
'master intimated to him that he had mistaken his voca- 
tion, and that Nature had not intended him to be a 
painter. Carracci, whose mind and hand worked slowly, 
and whose capacity for painstaking labour was as great 

^ Among them were Lodovico and Agostino Carracci, Calvart, " II 
Flamingo," and Tiarini. 


as that of his master was small, went away sorrowful, 
but not despairing. He betook himself to Venice to see 
Titian, and copied with untiring diligence the work of 
the Venetian school. Subsequent visits to Parma and 
to Florence completed his artistic education. He re- 
turned to Bologna the complete eclectic, and at once 
took a position which mortified and amazed his some- 
time teacher. Prospero perhaps saw no season to 
reverse his original judgment, but he recognized that 
the despised disciple had become, d. force de travail, an 
accomplished master, and that he who in derision of 
his slowness used to be called the Ox (II Bue) had 
managed to leave behind all his swifter contemporaries. 

Soon odious comparisons were instituted between 
Prospero Fontana and his successful pupil. Seeds of 
sedition were sown among his students, which, after 
a period of fermenting discontent, ripened to revolt. 
Prospero's studio was emptied, and the new school of 
Carracci was proclaimed the Only Way. 

To one of Prospero's pupils both rebellion and a 
change of masters was denied. Lavinia Fontana — as, 
later, Elisabetta Sirani — had the advantages and dis- 
advantages of being a painter's daughter. On the 
whole the advantages preponderated. But for the 
relationship it is improbable that Lavinia would have 
received any art education at all. The maidens of her 
day were, as a rule, intended and trained for only one 
profession — that of matrimony ; and the convenances, 
and social and economic conditions of the time con- 
spired to prevent them from dabbling in any other. 
The guild spirit and regulations, with which the arts 
and crafts were hedged, excluded even the most earnest 


amateur, and the non-existence of the artist's colourman 
prevented the emergence of the people who "paint a 
little." When a boy first entered a studio he had to 
learn how to prepare canvases, grind and compound 
colours, and mix varnishes. Every school of painting 
had its cherished recipes,^ and the painter's technical 
knowledge, like that of every other craft, was trans- 
mitted tg the apprentice for a consideration, and to 
the son as an heirloom. 

Thus Lavinia Fontana had reason to be grateful for 
the state of life to which she was called — a state which 
enabled her to exercise an art or " mystery," and inci- 
dentally gave her a liberal education. For it was 
necessary for her equipment as a painter that Prospero 
should impart to her some of his knowledge of "the 
fables of sacred and profane history," while her duty as 
his daughter entailed that association with educated 
men which is the best possible stimulus and complement 
to book-learning. To enjoy the conversation of her 
father's friends, to help in the material preparations for 
their entertainment, and to have in the background, 
correcting dissipation of energy and tendencies to 
frivolity, the steady, daily routine of studio work — this 
surely is a training of intelligence and character equal 
to any devised by educational theorists and carried out 
in modern schools and colleges. 

Lavinia probably resembled her father too much to 
excite the irritation which pupils of the tortoise type 

' We all know the story of how Baccio Bandinelli went to Andrea del 
Sarto ostensibly to have his portrait taken, really to discover his secrets, 
and how the faultless painter found means to reveal nothing but the inten- 
tions of the sitter. 


roused in him. She managed to assimilate the good 
and reject the evil of his teaching. She avoided the 
failings which sprang from his impatient haste; she 
reproduced his sombre sumptuousness of colour, and she 
added to it a power of seizing and conveying individual 
expression which was never his. 

No record of work accomplished, like the catalogue 
kept by Elisabetta Sirani, helps us to assign Lavinia's 
paintings to their proper dates, and to trace the develop- 
ment of her talent. We know only that it was her 
faculty of "'catching a likeness" and for making her 
portraits both truthful and pleasing, which first won 
her a reputation. The days had gone by when the 
harmless desire " to have one's picture taken " had to be 
concealed beneath the cloak of religious fervour, and 
men and women wishing to transmit their features to 
posterity had to stand aside as supporters to a central 
Madonna, or to kneel ^ humble adoration before the 
Divine Child. Oretti tells us that the smart ladies of 
Bologna found Lavinia's colouring so pretty, and her 
representation of their finery so satisfactory, that " they 
all wanted her to paint them, and made a pet of her." 
They began, too, to give her large prices. Baglioni 
asserts that before long she could command as much as 

In 1572 an event occurred which altered the current 
of her life while facilitating her successes. Pius V 
died, and was succeeded on the papal throne by that 
Cardinal who had so graphically described the corona- 
tion of the Emperor Charles — the Bolognese, Ugo 
Buoncompagni. His pedigree, on both sides, was 


interesting and unexceptional. His mother was of the 
Mareschalchi ; his father's ancestors were famous in 
the annals of the University.^ Following the family- 
traditions he studied law, took his doctor's degree, and 
acquired a reputation as a teacher. Three cardinals to 
be — Carlo Borromeo, Alexander Farnese, and Cristoforo 
Maduzzi — were among his pupils. 

By lawyers Gregory XIII will always be honoured for 
his collection of legal treatises, Dei Trattati Magni. 

Englishmen know him as the inspirer of fresh sedition 
and favourer of the Armada. 

French protestants execrate his memory for his 
rejoicings at the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. 

Italians generally respect him as the untiring promoter 
of education, the founder of many schools and colleges, 
notably the Jesuit colleges in Rome, Vienna, and 
Gratz, and the school for Greeks in Venice. 

The Japanese perhaps remember him as the kindly 
host of the first Japanese^ ambassadors ever sent to 

All Europe — save the great tract of Russia — is grate- 
ful to him for his reformed Calendar. 

But to the Bolognese this man of many parts and 
aspects was and is first and foremost a Bolognese. 
Every pope might be expected to leave in his birth- 
place some memorial of himself and his pontificate, and 
to bestow preferment when possible on its inhabitants. 
But when his own city was also one of his temporal 
possessions, his love for it could find yet more substan- 

^ A Buoncompagni was a very famous teacher of rhetoric in the first 
half of the thirteenth century. 

"^ They took three years to come from their own country to Rome. 


tial expression. The day after his election, Gregory XIII 
addressed a letter to the Senate assuring the people of 
Bologna of his special favour and protection. And these 
promises he fulfilled. He converted the bishopric into 
the see of a metropolitan, originated some beneficial 
changes in the government, liberally dispensed those 
cheap ecclesiastical alms — indulgences, and in spite of his 
immense need and expenditure of money always dealt 
leniently with Bologna in matters of taxation. The 
great bronze statue^ placed in his lifetime above the 
portal of the Palazzo Pubblico is the enduring token of 
the gratitude of the Bolognese to their fellow-citizen, 
Ugo Buoncompagni. 

Gregory XIII had none of the innate love of art, the 
rea\ flair oi the Medici popes; but he could apprecialte 
merit when it was pointed out to him, and was par- 
ticularly disposed to see it in a Bolognese. Prospero 
Fontana, moreover, had enjoyed the favour of three of 
his predecessors, and papal protection seemed almost 
to be his daughter's natural heritage. 

We now hear of journeys made by Lavinia for the 
exercise of her profession to the country houses of the 
Buoncompagni and their friends, of the approaches to 
Sora and Vignola being lined with men-at-arms, of 
speeches and receptions, and other extraordinary marks 
of honour shown to the gifted and charming young 
woman, who was too modest and level-headed to be 
spoiled then, or afterwards, by the favour of the great. 

' The statue was designed by Menganti and cast by Anchise Censor! in 
1580. In 1797 it was saved from destruction by a curious subterfuge. 
The triple crown was removed and a mitre was substituted for it, the 
statue being rechristened by the name of Bologna's patron, S. Petronio. 


And then, as the climax of this growing reputation, 
came the papal invitation, amounting to a command, to 
go to Rome. 

Lavinia had already sent thither a specimen of her 
powers, — a picture ordered by Cardinal Ascoli for S. 
Sabina on the Aventine. A little later she was commis- 
sioned to paint a picture for S. Paolo fuori le Mura 
on the " Stoning of S. Stephen." The subject and the 
size of the picture were chosen for her, and on this 
account it was something of a failure. She was not 
accustomed to draw figures larger than life-size, and 
was incapable of representing vigorous action and 
muscular play and development. The study of anatomy 
and hard drawing from the nude had been neglected. 
Here it was that Prospero's training had been fatally 

But as a portrait painter her fame deservedlyincreased. 
Her doors were besieged by fair ladies and fine gentle- 
men, and the number of her commissions was always 
in excess of the time at her disposal. In Rome, too, as 
formerly in Bologna, her sitters were not only delighted 
with her work but fascinated by her personality. All 
doors were open to her ; she was received with marked 
favour in every society. More than this, she had 
numerous oifers of marriage from men whose station 
in life was far more exalted than her own. 

But Lavinia Fontana was not to be diverted from the 
narrow way of Art. She foresaw clearly that marriage 
with a man of wealth and birth would mean the termi- 
nation of her professional career; that she would in- 
evitably become absorbed in his pursuits and his 
advancement ; that the claims of his position would 


grow ever more insistent and those of her work would 
take a secondary place; that little by little her social 
slavery would be complete. She had found another 
scheme of life and she adhered to it. The most desir- 
able matches — " i piu belli partiti " — were refused, and 
the young painter would say with a laugh she " would 
never take a husband unless he were willing to leave 
her the mistress of her first-beloved Art." Probably 
she already knew well that such a husband was ready 
to offer himself whenever she chose to whistle for him. 

Her union with the son of a wealthy grain-merchant 
of Imola exactly answered her requirements. It was 
not the outcome of youthful passion, still less was it the 
ideal " marriage of true minds." But it gave her the 
protection indispensable for her good name, and left her 
free to follow her true calling. The young man, while 
content to take a secondary place in her life and affec- 
tions, seems to have regarded her with a kind of dog- 
like fidelity ; while on her side there was perhaps that 
maternal interest and pity, which with many women is 
Love's proxy rather than his kinsman. 

The intimacy between the Fontana and De Zappis 
families began in a manner predictive of Lavinia's 
future attitude. Her father-in-law to be was one of 
Prospero's numerous acquaintances, and was probably 
accustomed to enjoy the artist's boundless hospitality 
when his business brought him in from Imola. One 
day he had a favour to ask Lavinia. A little difficulty 
had arisen concerning the export of grain. A petition 
to head-quarters, a word of explanation would set 
things right. Every one said that the Legate refused 
Lavinia nothing. Would she befriend him ? 


The popular young woman did as she was asked. 
The grain-merchant was satisfied and grateful ; and 
Lavinia began to feel interested in the family she had 
placed under an obligation. A stupid young son fancied 
he had a taste for art, and craved permission to 
enter Prospero's studio. He was found to be lack- 
ing, not only in genius, but also in ordinary capacity. 
But Lavinia probably perceived at this time both his 
incipient admiration and the solid moral qualities un- 
derlying the dull exterior. He had learnt, at least, 
to talk the painter's jargon, to understand the techni- 
calities of art, to realize its difficulties, to value its 
triumphs. Lavinia by and by found in the younger 
Zappis a very appreciative and useful helpmeet ; and 
now and then she allowed him to put in a back- 
ground or help her with a bit of draping — though she 
never permitted him to touch the more important 
portions of her pictures. 

Three children, two daughters and a son, were born 
of this curious but peaceful unipn. None of them per- 
petuated the gifts of their mother and maternal grand- 
father, while the son unfortunately inherited, in a 
cumulative degree the simplicity of his father.^ Gregory 
Xni gave him a nominal position in his household and 
attached to it a pension sufificient to relieve his mother 
from all anxiety for the material future of her " idiot 
boy." He passed his time chiefly in the corridors and 
ante-rooms of the Papal Court, where he was treated 
with kindly tolerance as a harmless buffoon. 

Though Lavinia's married home was in Rome, it is 

' " Confessavasi aver tratto egli quella simplicity dalla parte del Padre,"" 
says Malvasia. 




clear from the dates of two of her best pictures, the 
Gozzadini family group (1584) and the Madonna with 
portrait of the donor, of S. Giacomo Maggiore (1589), 
that she paid at least two visits to her native city. 
Probably her father's declining strength and financial 
difficulties called for her presence. For Prospero, after 
the fashion of Bohemia, had, in the days of his pros- 
perity, more than lived up to his income. In spite of 
constant employment and papal pensions he had saved 
nothing against the inevitable day when the hand loses 
its cunning and those which look out of the windows 
are darkened. He had once been "the fashion," but 
the public taste had changed. The Eclectics held the 

A letter has been preserved by Malvasia which 
pathetically illustrates the reversed positions of the 
Carracci and their sometime master. It is written by 
one Pompeo Vizzani in Bologna to Monsignore Ratta 
in Rome, who wished to present a picture to a church 
in the former city : — 

" As to the picture, I have spoken to the Carracci 
and got others to speak to them, and they were willing 
to undertake it; but when it came to speaking about 
the price, their decision did not please me; for they 
said they wanted two hundred scudi, which seems to me 
a very big price, since till now they have always done 
their pictures for sixty or seventy ; but now they begin 
to trade upon their name. I have heard though that 
it is their way to take much less than they ask at first, 
and that they are apt to have their work on hand a long 
time before finishing it. 

" I have talked to M. Prospero, who said a great deal 


about wishing to serve you. He would not be explicit 
about price" — (how characteristic is this passage of 
Italians in general, of Prospero in particular) — "but he 
said that to other people he should ask one hundred 
scudi, but from you he would be content with whatever 
you chose to give, and that he would get it finished by 
the end of April, and would do it with his own hand ; 
there was no question of Madonna Lavinia." 

The letter is dated December, 1593. Lavinia was 
certainly in Bologna at that time, working on the Goz- 
zadini portraits, hence Vizzani's assertion that Prospero, 
not his daughter, could paint the picture ^required 
by Monsignore Ratta. The remark possibly indicates 
that, portraiture apart, the work of the father was still 
preferred by his contemporaries. Prospero, when he so 
eagerly bid for this commission, was eighty-two. He 
hungered not for bread alone, but for the incense of 
admiration which had once filled his atmosphere. To 
the end he could not realize that the old order had 
changed, and that he must give place to a younger 

He lived to be eighty-five, passing hence in the year 
1597. His life and that of his daughter together fill 
exactly a century (15 12- 161 2). 

Neither the death of her father nor that of her munifi- 
cent patron, Gregory XIII, which took place in 1585, 
materially affected the even tenor of Lavinia's prosperous 
life, about which little is recorded, precisely because 
it was of the happy, tranquil type which has no history. 
We know, however, that during her long residence in 
the Eternal City, which was her pays d'adoption, she 


must have seen extraordinary changes alike in its out- 
ward aspect and in its social conditions. 

" I am in Rome after an absence of ten years," wrote 
Don Angelo Grillo at this period, " and I hardly recog- 
nize it, so new does everything seem, — monuments, 
streets, piazzas, fountains, aqueducts, obelisks, and other 
marvels, all the work of Sixtus V." 

The best remembered of these public works was the 
completion in twenty-two months of the dome of 
St. Peter's, and the erection in the great square in front 
of it of the obelisk which had once stood in Caligula's 
circus. The latter achievement was accomplished by 
a young architect named Domenico Fontana, a fellow- 
countryman and probably a relation of Lavinia. But 
the really stupendous marvel, and one which intimately 
affected the life and comfort of every man and woman 
in the city, was the breaking up of the alliance between 
the nobles and the dravi, and the expulsion of the latter 
from the papal states. 

The story that Felix Peretti entered the conclave 
a bent, infirm man on crutches, and that immediately 
after his election he stood straight and erect, and in- 
formed his terrified electors that he meant to be im- 
plicitly obeyed, is one of those fictions which are truer 
than accurate statements of fact. The Pope, whom our 
English Queen Elizabeth, in admiration of a spirit as 
determined as her own," declared to be the only man in 
Europe worthy to be her husband, lost no time in 
showing that he meant to be master in his own city. 
A few hours after his election, an infringement of the 
law against carrying arms was punished with immediate 
death. Soon the wits of Rome had reason to compose 


a dialogue between the statues of S. Peter and S. Paul 
on the bridge of S. Angelo/ in which the former is 
made to explain that he is preparing to leave Rome, 
fearing to be punished for the cutting off of Malchus' 
ear. Within a year of his election, life and property- 
were tolerably secure in Rome. 

After the death of Sixtus V, Lavinia saw the brief 
reigns of eight popes. One of these, Innocent IX, was 
a Bolognese, though as his pontificate lasted but two 
months, he can hardly have had time to benefit his 
countrywoman. But in fact Lavinia no longer stood in 
need of patronage. Popes might come and popes 
might go ; the eclectics might create a new mode 
in art ; young Guido Reni might visit Rome ; and 
still the current of the portrait painter's prosperity 
flowed evenly along. Her talent was at once too 
limited, and too unique and individual to be disturbed 
by the emergence of new ideals and methods. Her 
fame never grew less, and a few years before her death 
a medal was actually coined in her honour. 

' The usual place of execution. There, in Lavinia's lifetime, the 
Cenci family were executed (1599). Readers of Browning's Ring and 
the Book will remember how the Pope changes the place of execution in 
order to make the punishment of Fompilia's murderers more public and 

' ' The substituting, too, the People's Square 
For the out-o'-the way old quarter by the Bridge." 

This cause Ulibre took place just a century after that of the Cenci. 


THE best known, and perhaps the most character- 
istic, of Lavinia Fontana's larger paintings is the 
picture — No. 75 Sala C — in the Accademia of her native 

It represents a noble lady with her four attendants 
kneeling at the feet of a tall friar, to whom they present 
for benediction a naked, smiling babe. The babe is the 
friar's godson, afterwards known to history as Francis I, 
King of France. The noble lady in whose arms, or 
rather in whose hands, he lies, is his mother, Louise de 
Savoie, Duchesse d'Angoul^me. The friar is the 
Calabrian, Francesco di Paola,^ founder of that reformed 
order of Franciscans known as Minimes — the least. 

The miserable superstitious Louis XI, lying sick unto 
death at Plessis-le-Tours, heard of the miracles of healing 
wrought by the holy friar in far-off Southern Italy, and 
straightway sent for him, promising him great advan- 
tages for his order. But Francesco di Paola, like his 
namesake and exemplar, the " poverello " of Assisi, 
wanted nothing, and believing that his visit to France 
would not advance the spiritual welfare of the King, 
declined the invitation. His refusal added fuel to the 

' Paola is a village on the road between Reggio and Naples, 


fire of Louis' sickldesire, and he besought Pope Sixtus IV 
to command Francesco to repair to Tours. The Pope 
obeyed the King, and the friar obeyed the Pope. 
When Francesco reached Plessis, Louis grovelled at his 
feet, beseeching him in a passion of hope and fear to 
obtain from heaven a prolongation of his days. The 
friar replied that life and death were in the hands of 
the Creator, and that perfect submission to His will was 
the duty of the creature. Little by little Francesco's 
words and personality calmed the wretched king; he 
succeeded in imbuing him with some of his own faith 
and courage ; he soothed his dying moments, and ad- 
ministered the last sacraments. 

Louis' successors, Charles VIII and Louis XII, would 
seldom permit Francesco to leave France ; and by 
degrees the order took root there, and the name of 
Bons-hommes, originally given to the Minimi by derisive 
courtiers, was adopted and cherished by the French 
people. He exercised a great and salutary influence 
over Louise de Savoie, the wife of Charles of Orleans, 
and when in 1 507 the friar died, lamented by all the 
court and household, she prepared with her own hands 
the winding-sheet for his burial. In 15 19 he was canon- 
ized by Leo X; and when Lavinia was twelve years 
old, a burst of righteous indignation at the outrage of 
the Huguenots, who rifled his tomb and burned his 
remains, caused a great recrudescence in the new Saint's 

Lavinia has represented him as a tall gaunt man, 
whose height is increased by the wearing of high clogs. 
He stands, holding in his left hand a pole as long as an 
alpenstock, with his right hand raised to bless his 




infant godson. The babe is being held by his mother 
in an uncomfortable and seemingly precarious position, 
but instead of weeping, wriggling, and slipping back- 
wards, as we might have expected, he seems to stiffen 
his little spine into a sitting posture, while gazing with 
heavenly serenity into the friar's face. 

His mother and three of her ladies are upon their 
knees: the fourth attendant stands behind them, her 
hands uplifted with a gesture of pious admiration. The 
Duchess wears a sleeveless tunic like an ephod, the 
hem of which is encrusted with jewelled embroidery. 
The four ladies are in the ordinary French costume of 
the period — tight-fitting, square-cut bodices, ruffs, puffed 
sleeves, and close-fitting little caps. Their faces, atti- 
tudes, and gestures are worthy of Lavinia's reputation 
as a portrait painter ; and their adornments are painted 
with the peculiar skill which won her the patronage of 
all possessors of costly jewels. Each pearl and gem 
has its value, yet they are not painted in the niggling, 
microscopic manner of the miniaturist. The whole is 
never sacrificed to the parts ; broad effects and masses 
are preserved in spite of elaboration of detail. 

The pillow and cloth held by the lady immediately 
behind Louise de Savoie are very characteristic of 
Lavinia's manner of treating the minutiae of feminine 
costume. Look carefully into the picture ; place a 
photographic reproduction of it under a microscope. 
You will see that the insertion in the pillow-cover and 
the edging of the cloth are of the fine retkella em- 
broidery which is the peculiar needle-craft of Bologna 
and the neighbourhood, recently revived under the name 
of Emilia Ars. All this is clearly revealed by close 


examination ; but this detail of ornamentation does not 
obtrude itself, and we might long be familiar with the 
picture without even noticing the pillow or its lace. 

Behind the kneeling figures is a flight of stone steps 
down which come dancing two bare-legged damsels, 
affectedly holding up their skirts, apparently for the 
benefit of a group of men-at-arms who stand a little 
farther back in the hall, but not so far but that they 
seem to be relatively too small. 

Above, badly shown in the photograph, is a musician's 
gallery, in which one can dimly discern some figures 
blowing long trumpets. 

The background of the picture is rather confused and 
purposeless, but the composition as a whole is entirely 
pleasing, and the colouring, warm, rich, splendid yet 
sombre, is characteristic of both Lavinia and her father. 
The brown robe of the Franciscan tones with the dull 
red tiles of the hall, and these again with the red under- 
dress and golden tunic of the Duchess, whose costume 
supplies the strongest colour of the picture. 

There are three other pictures by Lavinia Fontana in 
the Bologna Gallery. All are portraits. One, a man's 
head (Camera G, 523), is hardly larger than a cabinet 
photograph. The gentleman wears the black dress, the 
round white ruff, and little pointed beard which con- 
stituted the regular uniform of all her mele sitters. 

The second portrait (Corridor N. 2, 686) is of an un- 
known lady in a black velvet gown cut open at the 
throat to reveal a fine white chemisette embroidered with 
seed pearls and finished by the inevitable round white 
ruff. The face is three-quarters, the eyes full. The 


dark hair is drawn back from the intellectual brow. 
The lady is not of an Italian type ; we might almost 
fancy her a modern Englishwoman masquerading in 
sixteenth-century costume. In the same room is another 
portrait, a little picture of a young girl. 

The pictures of a painter whose contemporary fame 
exceeded her posthumous reputation, and whose forte 
was portraiture, must necessarily be sought for chiefly 
in the collections of private persons, or with dealers 
who have bought from these collections ; and a steady 
search in Roman and Bolognese lumber-rooms and 
palazzi would doubtless bring to light many forgotten 
specimens of Lavinia's work. The subsequent division 
or disposal of collections, the extinction of families, 
and the transference of property have destroyed the 
practical value of Oretti's long list of the houses where 
in his day her pictures might be found, and it is interest- 
ing only as a proof of her industry and popularity. 

There is, however, one picture which still hangs in the 
place where Oretti saw it, and for which it was painted 
— the large Gozzadini family group reproduced on the 
opposite page. A photograph, however, necessarily 
conveys a very unworthy idea of this picture. It 
emphasizes the limitations imposed on Lavinia by her 
subject and her sitters, and does not indicate how she 
triumphed over them. It presents us with a photo- 
graphic group, two plain, self-conscious women and 
three commonplace men, who seem to have posed before 
a camera — five people who have put on their best clothes 
and are very anxious that these should "come out 
well." But it does not show the character and beauty 


of these garments, and the amazing quality and work- 
manship of the ornaments so lavishly displayed ; still 
less does it convey the witchery of rich harmonious 
colour by means of which Lavinia converted what 
might have been a portrait group interesting only to the 
Gozzadini family into a really fine and exceedingly 
decorative work of art. 

As an illustration of the dress and goldsmith's work 
of the period the picture has extraordinary and unique 
interest; and every student of the history of costume 
should take a little trouble to obtain access to the 
Gozzadini Palace, No. 58, Via San Stefano. Failing 
to do this, he should examine the coloured reproduction 
in Litta's Famiglia Celebre Italiana. Litta, bowing no 
doubt to the limitations of colour printing, omits 
Lavinia's charming background. The figures stand out 
against white paper, and a dignified picture appears as 
a banal fashion plate. As such, however, its value is 
considerable, particularly if it be studied together with 
a short paper describing it, published by the last direct 
representative of the great Gozzadini house, the learned 
Count Giovanni Gozzadini. {Atti e Memorie della Reale 
Deputazione di Storia P atria per le Romagne, Serie III. 
Vol. I.) In this paper extracts are given from a family 
book of accounts and memoranda which contains careful 
record of the purchase of some of the jewels depicted 
by Lavinia. 

The order for the picture came from one of the two 
ladies who appear in it — she who caresses the little dog, 
a spaniel of the type we call after their fancier " King 
Charles." Both ladies were natural daughters, sub- 
sequently legitimated, of the elderly gentleman in the 


centre of the group, the Senator Ulisse Gozzadini, and 
both were married to brothers belonging to another 
branch of the same family, so that the name of Gozza- 
dini is common to the entire group. 

The picture is signed : " Lavinia Fontana De Zappis, 
fecit M.DLXXXIIII." But Ulisse Gozzadini died in 1561 
(when the painter was only nine years old), and Ginevra — 
the plump lady on whose arm Ulisse lays an affectionate 
hand — in 1581. But in 1538 the Senator's portrait had 
been taken by Samachini, and Lavinia may well have 
worked from this. Ginevra she must have remem- 
bered, and may have sketched or painted previously. 
No imaginary portraits would have satisfied Madonna 
Laodamia, who wished to have a memorial of all her 
dear ones ; and the plump figure, described by Count 
Gozzadini as " tozza, rincignata, assai brutta " (ill- 
shaped, enceinte, and very ugly), is painted with almost 
brutal truthfulness to life. 

Ginevra is arrayed in white brocade with an over- 
dress of marvellous black lace, and a girdle of wrought 
gold, jewels, and enamels. Behind her stands her 
husband, Annibale Gozzadini, as " peaky," cadaverous, 
and anxious as his wife is podgy and self-satisfied. 
He was forty-five when his portrait was taken.^ 

The central figure, Paterfamilias Ulysses, is seated 
behind the little table which separates his daughters. 
He is a grave dignified man with an intelligent anxious 
face, hardly looking the fifty-six years which he had 
when he died, and which Lavinia, working from the 
portrait taken when he was only thirty-three, doubtless 

' He holds an open letter in his left hand. The writer has not been 
able to discover whether this has any special significance. 


found it difficult to realize. He wears the senatorial 
zimarra and round black cap. Both he and his two 
sons-in-law have little beards and moustaches clipped 
in the French mode. 

Camillo, who stands behind his wife Laodamia, is 
a stouter, darker, more genial person than his brother, 
whose junior he was by six years, albeit he married the 
elder of the two sisters. 

Laodamia is perhaps the most pleasing and certainly 
the most gorgeously arrayed of the five figures. Her 
face is that of an intelligent, cheery, but unimaginative 
and rather prim woman of thirty, though possibly the 
"prunes and prisms" expression is due to the self- 
consciousness of the amateur model. She wears a 
crimson robe and an over-dress of black lace. On her 
bosom gleam the double row of those oriental pearls, 
to the number of fifty-five, which Camillo Gozzadini 
notes, in the previously mentioned account-book, as 
purchased for " Madonna Lavinia mia sposa " for the 
sum of two hundred and fifty-six ducats. On the thumb 
of the right hand, laid on the lap-dog's head for the 
purpose of exhibiting its adornments, is one of the two 
diamond and ruby rings which cost her husband eighty 
ducats, the other gleams on the forefinger of the left 
hand ; while two of the four " pendenti da orecchii " of 
pearls and crystals, priced at eighteen ducats, hang from 
her ears, the other two perhaps appearing in those of 
Madonna Ginevra. 

All five figures wear round pleated ruffs of fine 
cambric edged with lace. 

The table separating the ladies and serving for the 
display of their hands is covered with a dull green 


cloth. The background, a warm brown in tone, is a 
room in the palace, with a vista through an open door 
of a second room, where a latticed window forms the 
vanishing point, and gives a sense of air and light. 

Oretti speaks of '' many pictures " in the Gozzadini 
Palace. The writer has only been able to discover one 
other. This is the head and shoulders portrait of an 
elderly lady with a fat, pleasant countenance. As is 
the case with all Lavinia's portraits, it is at the face that 
the beholder first gazes, and only when this has been 
examined does he look at the elaborate details of the 
dress. The dress in this case is black, but — again a 
characteristic of Lavinia — the texture is hardly in- 
dicated ; we cannot tell whether the pleasant old dame 
is habited in cloth, silk, or velvet. She wears a peaked 
" Marie Stuart " cap, and a curious necklace, composed 
of pearls and black lozenged-shaped stones. 

Portraiture, as we have already seen, was not obliged 
in Lavinia Fontana's day to go abroad masked with 
religious fervour. When a man wanted to have his 
picture taken it was unnecessary to simulate a longing 
to make a votive offering. But it was of course possible 
to entertain both desires, and it was convenient and 
economical to satisfy them simultaneously, and for 
a single price. Moreover, when a handsome gift was 
given to a church, it was surely well to acquaint posterity 
with the name and features of the donor. 

So thought a certain Bolognese citizen, by name 
Scipio Calcina, who at the close of the sixteenth 
century restored the chapel in S. Giacomo Maggiore 
erected by a member of his family one hundred and 


seventy years previously. He determined further to 
supply the Calcina Chapel with an altar-piece, and to 
put his portrait into it, instead of merely recording his 
generosity on a mural tablet as his ancestor had done. 

So Lavinia Fontana was commissioned to paint 
a Madonna and Child with attendant saints, and a 
very fine picture she produced, rich and mellow in 
colour as the work of the Venetian school. Her Virgin 
is a fair and noble figure, in a red robe and dark green 
cloak, seated on a throne canopied with dark green 
curtains. The Babe — although the face is very sweet 
and the pose graceful — is far less satisfactory ; the poor 
modelling of the limbs reveals the great defect in 
Lavinia's training : the lack of careful drawing from the 

On either side of the throne are SS. Cosmo and 
Damian in red robes and ermine tippets — life-like studies 
of Bolognese doctors. Just below the dais of the throne 
kneels a woman in a rich gold-coloured robe ornamented 
with gems. She is looking up into the face of the 
Virgin, whose arm embraces her with a familiar gesture 
of protection. The lack of dignity in her attitude, so 
different from the restrained adoring reverence of earlier 
Saint Catherines, makes us at first overlook her emblems 
— the coronet and a curious scimitar lying beside her 
on the ground — and take her for another suppliant 
member of the Calcina family. With the right hand, 
from which she has evidently dropped the scimitar, she 
points backwards, with a gesture of introduction, to a 
man in a white ruff with a little pointed beard, the 
donor Scipio, who kneels with his body curiously bent 
backwards from the knees. 


In the church of S. Maria della Pieta is a large 
canvas which differs somewhat in character from any of 
Lavinia's other pictures. The subject — the Multiplica- 
tion of the Loaves and Fishes — brought her face to face 
with a difficulty which her usual choice of subjects 
seldom presented — the difficulty of delineating a large 
and confused crowd, while concentrating the interest of 
the picture in a small group of foreground figures. This 
difficulty is on the whole very successfully met. Lavinia 
depicts not the feeding of the multitude, but the 
moment when the power of the compassionate Master 
is put forth on their behalf. Jesus is seated in the fore- 
ground with his right hand uplifted to bless the little 
bare-legged lad who, brought forward by Philip, pre- 
sents his dish of fishes. To the left, one of the disciples 
is holding a flat loaf, while in front of him another, 
seated on the ground, holds a stilus and a tablet, per- 
haps for the purpose of calculating the number of 
persons to be fed, more probably to record the miracle 
he was about to witness. 

The vermilion robe of this .figure and the dull pink 
and deep blue and green draperies of the Master are the 
strongest masses of colour in the picture, which is other- 
wise low in tone. But in spite of the grey rocks, the 
grey cliffs, the distant glimpse of a grey lake, and the 
grey sky overhead, the atmosphere of the picture is 
warm. We know that it is a hot evening, not a sunless 

In S. Maria del Baraccano — the church which con- 
tains Properzia de Rossi's carved "arco" — there is a 
Holy Family by Lavinia. The Virgin sits beside a 


table in a natural but ungraceful posture, sideways, yet 
with body and head turned full. On the table is a 
curious wicker cradle — a long basket lined with dull 
yellow cushions. The Mother is taking her Child out 
of this cradle. He stretches out his arms to the little 
Saint John Baptist, a lovely laughing child standing by 
the table. S. Joseph from the background watches the 
three, his head propped on his hands. There is nothing 
in this domestic group to inspire devotion ; but the 
colouring is charming. The Virgin's robe is red ; so is 
the drapery of the Baptist ; a red book lies on the 
table. The whole picture is flushed with red gold tones, 
harmonious and mellow as the tinting of ripe fruit. 

Those who would see any specimens of Lavinia 
Fontana's drawings — and in the rougher sketches of an 
artist we always find the most intimate note, the surest 
indication, of his quality — can do so by making due 
application to Ispettore Ferri, of the Uffizi Gallery in 
Florence. Ten of her sketches are in his keeping. 
They are : — 

No, 4.327 — A St. Ursula and her virgins in pen and 
ink. The saint stands, crowned ; the virgins, all in late 
sixteenth-century costume, kneel around. The sketch 
is squared for reproduction on a larger scale, but the 
write* has been unable to discover whether Lavinia ever 
used it for this purpose. 

No. 4.326 — A large sketch in red chalk, representing 
the Presentation in the Temple. The Virgin and her 
attendants are in classical draperies. The high priest is 
an undignified figure, but the composition as a whole is 


No. 72,/<Pp — A very slight sketch of a young girl's 

No. i2,igo — A child's full face. 

No. I2,igi — The portrait of a little boy, with face 
turned to the right. 

No. I2,ig3 — The head of a man slightly turned to 
the left. He has a moustache, and wears a small cap. 

No. 12,194. — A large and interesting study in black 
pencil and water-colour of two half-length figures — a 
woman whose face is seen in left-side profile, a man 
turning to the left and looking down. 

No. I2,ig5 — The head of a man turned to the left but 
looking straight. His face has a pained, anxious ex- 
pression. He wears the usual ruffs and pointed beard. 

No. 2ig6 — A man's head, full face. 


Oretti. Pittori, Tomo II. Gozzadini MS. 122 (the only 
MS. source). 

Malvasia. Felsina Pittrice, Vol. I. 

Giovanni Gozzadini. "Atti e Memorie della Reale 
Deputazione di Storia Patria per le Romagne" (on the 
Gozzadini portrait). 

Abecedario Pittorico. ■ Merely a recapitulation. 

Zanotti. Vite dei Pittori, I. 

Blanc et Delaborde. Histoire des Peintres. 

Marco Minghetti. Le Donne Italiane. 








Giusta sembra la doglia, e ben conosco 

Quanto sia grave altiui 

Perder sul fior degli anni amata prole. 

FuLVIO Tbsti, Si cottsola la Marehesa Vittoria 

Lurcari Calcagnina per la morle di suafiglia, 

HALF-WAY up the stately nave of the Dominican 
church in Bologna are two chapels larger and 
more imposing than the rest. That on the south side 
contains the beautiful sarcophagus enclosing the bones 
of the founder of the order. That on the north side, 
bedecked with artificial flowers, and frequented all day 
long by kneeling worshippers, is the Cappella del 

Entering this chapel we notice on the left-hand wall a 
slab bearing the following inscription : — 

Hic Jacent 

ViXIT . GUIDO . LXVII . Obiit . XV . K . 

Sept . A . MDCXLII 


Sept . A . MDCLXV 

The vault marked by this tablet was the property of 
Signor Saulo Guidotti, a distinguished gentleman of 



Bologna, a lover of painting and a friend of painters. 
He had held the infant Elisabetta in his arms at the 
baptismal font, and when " Death lay on her like an 
untimely frost," he offered her a last hospitality— a 
place in his own tomb. Thither, twenty-three years 
earlier, Guido Reni had preceded her; and, to the 
fancy of her contemporaries, there was something 
peculiarly fitting in this post-mortem union of the two 
painters ; for though Elisabetta was a mere babe when 
Guido Reni died, she called him Master and was both 
the ablest and the most faithful of his disciples. 

In this vault in the chapel of the Rosary, on the 
evening of 28 August, 1665, the girl-artist was laid to 
rest — quietly, as she had lived. But Elisabetta Sirani 
had never been without honour in her own country and 
among her own kindred, and her fellow-citizens were 
determined to give public expression to their admira- 
tion and their grief And thus it came to pass that, on 
the fourteenth day of November following, the Domini- 
can church was crowded and adorned as for a princely 
funeral. The walls were hung, the pillars swathed with 
sable cloth, gold-fringed. There were gilded wreaths, 
swaying lamps, and shields displaying a variety of 
mottoes, emblems, and devices — among them one 
which excited marked and peculiar attention, the 
picture of a fruitful, tree with an axe laid to the trunk, 
surmounted by the words : "Invida Manus." 

The crowd which filled the church doubtless resembled 

a modern Bolognese congregation assembled for some 

' high festival or solemn ceremonial. That is to say, it 

was at once devout and irreverent ; skilful in making 

the best of both worlds; greeting acquaintances and 


singing responses with equal heartiness ; circulating 
freely and persistently from one point of interest to 
another, but withal without noise or unseemly push or 
jostling. We are told that it was not only nmneris- 
sima (most numerous), but also fioritissima (most dis- 
tinguished), including many nobles and virtuosi; and 
this implies a brave show of satins, velvets, and laces, 
the gleam of jewels, and the glint and clank of swords. 
These fine gentlemen — many of them good musicians, 
more of them indifferent poets, most of them dilettanti 
— listened with rapture to "the exquisite music" of 
Signor Maurizio Cazzati, which accompanied the func- 
tion, praised the invention of the artist Matteo Borbone, 
who was responsible for the scheme of decoration, and 
gave admiring ears to the lengthy funeral oration pro- 
nounced by Signor Giorgio Luigi Ficinardi, Prior of the 
Lawyers in the University of Bologna. And meanwhile 
the vulgar herd pressed towards the picture of the tree 
stricken by the hand of envy ; and we can imagine with 
what expressive pantomime, what shrugging of the 
shoulders, show of extended palms, and shaking of 
clenched fists the Bolognese proletariat communicated 
and expressed their suspicions and their execrations. 

But the point towards which all currents in the crowd 
ultimately tended was the catafalque rising in the 
middle of the nave, intended to represent the Temple 
of Fame. It was an extraordinary structure of imita- 
tion marble ; octangular, with cupola-shaped roof sup- 
ported by eight columns of sham porphyry. Seven 
sides of the base were decorated with angelic figures, 
mottoes, and emblematic pictures. On the eighth side 


a flight of steps, guarded by siren-shaped candelabra 
— an admired allusion to the name of the deceased — 
led to the platform or tribune ; and there, in the glare 
of lighted torches, was placed the life-sized, lifelike 
figure of the dead artist, seated before her easel, in the 
act of painting. 

The portentous erection, with its gilding and its sham 
marble, its fantastic emblems, intricate conceits, alle- 
gorical devices, and touch of startling realism, seems 
the very symbol and embodiment of barocco taste and 

The funeral oration was its counterpart in rhetoric. 
Nay, in comparison with the bombastic grandiloquence 
of Picinardi (who had profited only too well by the 
teaching of the famous Achillini), the architecture of 
the catafalque was of Gothic simplicity. The lawyer's 
stream of eloquence almost bears us off our feet. His 
periods are long lanes with only too many turnings. 
We must needs take a classical dictionary as a road-map 
if we would not lose ourselves in his wood (scarce visible 
for the trees) of allegory and trope. Yet this oration, 
"extant and writ in very choice Italian," under the 
title " II Pennello Lagrimato " (" The Lamented Paint- 
brush"), is not unprofitable reading. Here and there 
among its gaudy flowers of rhetoric we may gather 
sprigs of rosemary, fragrant reminiscences of the 
painter's life, obtainable from no other quarter. Here, 
too, we find a tribute to her spotless innocence, a virtue 
rare among the ladies of her century and city. Here, 
again, we have a list of her foreign patrons, and of the 
distinguished persons who went to see her paint. 

But chiefly is the oration worthy of our note because 


we are informed that Picinardi moved his audience to 
tears. Such emotion argues not only art and artifice 
on the part of the orator, but also a close bond of 
sympathy between himself and his audience. We ask 
ourselves what were "the cords of a man" by which 
this bombastic, self-satisfied lawyer drew his hearers ; 
and the "Pennello Lagrimato" supplies an answer to the 
question. In it we recognize the twofold cord of artistic 
perception and civic patriotism. 

This public mourning for a girl of humble, middle- 
class family is the seventeenth-century counterpart in 
black of the many-tinted scene in thirteenth-century 
Florence when the Borgo Allegro installed the Rucellai 
Madonna in the church of Santa Maria Novella ; or of 
that yet gayer procession of the whole population of 
Mantua in the summer of 1495, when Mantegna's "Our 
Lady of Victory"^ was borne from the painter's house 
to the chapel erected for its reception. It was the 
expression of a love and respect for art which was not 
confined to certain strata of society, but was diffused 
through all classes, and sprang from the deepest founts 
of popular feeling. 

This popular, instinctive, artistic perception is un- 
known in modern Europe. It was seen in perfection 
only in the Italian city-state, where it was trained and 
intensified by a sense of civic solidarity. Elisabetta 
Sirani was, to the Bolognese, not merely a talented 

^ The chapel and its altar-piece commemorated the success of the 
Duke of Milan and his ally, Francesco Gonzaga, over the French. It is 
one of ' ' life's little ironies " that the Madonna della Vittoria is now one 
of the most valued possessions of the Louvre. 


artist — she was their own painter. She had been born in 
their midst. They hkd seen her womanhood and her 
genius bud and blossom. She filled them with the 
pride of ownership. She became one of the sights of 
their city. They took their strangers to see her paint. 
They greeted her pictures with sonnets. When she lay 
in mortal agony they discussed her every symptom. 
When she died they wept and demanded vengeance on 
her suspected murderers. 

"She is mourned by all," wrote the Gonfalonier of 
Justice to Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici; "the ladies 
especially, whose portraits she flattered, cannot hold 
their peace about it. Indeed, it is a great misfortune to 
lose such a great artist in so strange a manner." 

And this letter was preceded by one from Count 
Annibale Ranuzzi (for whom Elisabetta's last finished 
picture was executed), who wrote on August 30 : — 

" The day before yesterday, about 21 o'clock,^ Signora 
Elisabetta Sirani died in twenty-four hours, of pain in 
the stomach and bowels, to the extreme grief of the 
whole city ; for day by day her power increased, so that 
the greatest expectations were entertained concerning 

Nowadays we give and we receive less in the way of 
neighbourly sympathy. The modern painter, trained in 
London or Paris, lost in a crowd of art students, work- 
ing and rising to fame far from his native place, never 
receives the homage which the Bolognese accorded to 
their Carracci, to Guido Reni, Domenichino, Guer- 
cino, and the Sirani, father and daughter. Nor can the 

' That is, according to our reckoning, between five and six o'clock in the 


modern art critic, with his cosmopolitan standards of 
comparison, see with the eyes, at once keenly discerning 
and blinded with local prejudice, of the medieval 
Italian citizen. Our impressions are weakened by the 
speed of their succession. Our sympathies and affec- 
tions are diffused and diluted : frequent posts, facilities 
of travel, the telegraph, the daily newspaper, have made 
us citizens of the world. It is very difficult for us to 
comprehend the power of appreciation, the lack of per- 
spective, the intensity of emotion created by restricted 
space and immense leisure : it is well-nigh impossible 
for us to realize the excitement caused by events of 
minor importance within those city walls which shut 
out th.c forestiere and shut in the seething strength of 
class and civic sentiment. 

It would never have occurred to Picinardi's hearers to 
criticize his oration on the ground that it was less a 
eulogy of the artist than a panegyric on her birthplace. 
Yet, in fact, an assertion that she took her first steps to- 
wards fame by coming into the world fra i Penati di 
Felsina, forms the starting-point for a sketch of Fel- 
sinean history from the earliest times and an excuse for 
a perorating rhapsody of civic patriotism : " City which 
for the clemency of its air, for the benignity of its cli- 
mate, the vastness of its circumference, the fertility of 
its fields, the amenity of its hills, the magnificence of its 
edifices, the wonder of its spectacles, the number of its 
inhabitants, the charm of its paintings, the nimbleness 
of its spirits, the doctrine of its professors, the vener- 
able order of its masters, the concourse of foreign stu- 
dents, the splendour of its nobility, the gallantry and 
generosity of its gentlemen, the beauty and gaiety of 


its ladies, is with reason esteemed the centre of mirth^ 
the garden of delight, the dwelling of Flora, the throne 
of Spring, the treasure of Pomona, the abode of Diana, 
the inn of Fortune, the museum of Apollo, the school of 
painters, the camp of Mars, the asylum of the Graces, 
the nest of Love, the Venus of cities ; city 

That hath 'mong other towns the place I trow 
That hath the Cyprus 'mong viburnums low." 

We do not speak thus of London, Paris or Berlin ; and 
Picinardi's attitude towards the dead artist reminds us 
irresistibly of the commendation bestowed in Gilbert 
and Sullivan's most popular operetta on the man who 
" resisted all temptations to belong to other nations." 
But the Bolognese who gathered round the rostrum 
greedily inhaled the incense of the lawyer's eloquence. 
They thrilled with pride at the reminder that the painter 
whose death they commemorated had been a native of 
" no mean city." Picinardi spoke not merely to, hut for 
them ; " and the energy of his words," says one who 
was himself among that congregation, " drew from our 
eyes tears, from our hearts sighs"; so that the temple 
"but lately filled with sweet harmonies and sonorous 
chanting, echoed to the sound of sobs and groans." 



I saw her upon nearer view, 

A spirit, yet a woman too ! 

Her household motions light and free 

And steps of virgin liberty ; 

A countenance in which did meet 

Sweet records, promises as sweet ; 

A creature not too bright or good 

For human nature's daily food ; 

For transient sorrows, simple wiles, 

Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears, and smiles. 

And now I see with eye serene 
The very pulse of the machine ; 
A being breathing thoughtful breath, 
A traveller betwixt life and death ; 
The reason firm, the temperate will. 
Endurance, foresight, strength and skill ; 
A perfect woman, nobly planned 
To warn, to comfort, and command. 

THE Via Urbana is a quiet turning out of one of 
the main thoroughfares of Bologna — the street of 
late rechristened Via d' Azeglio, for centuries known 
as Via S. Mamolo. On the right-hand side, above a 
house-door marked by the number 7, we find a tablet 
bearing this inscription : — 







The house has been enlarged and internally recon- 
structed, and is now let in separate apartments ; in the 
seventeenth century it was a two-storied, modest, private 
dwelling. It was Elisabetta's only home — the scene, 
not only as the tablet states, of her entrance into this 
world, but also of her exit from it, and of all the astound- 
ing activity of her brief existence. 

Of her childhood we know nothing save the solitary 
fact recorded with mingled satisfaction and remorse by 
Count Carlo Cesare Malvasia,^ Canon of the cathedral 
church of San Pietro. This distinguished Bolognese 
art critic and patron, whose Felsina Pittrice, in spite of 
prejudice, inaccuracies, and omissions, remains a stan- 
dard work on the history of Bolognese painting, was a 
frequent visitor in the Sirani household, where the 
pretty little Elisabetta, twenty years his junior, was his 
especial friend. He tells us that, noting the child's 
artistic bent, he with difficulty persuaded her father, a 
painter of some note, to number her among his pupils. 
When her talent developed, he encouraged her efforts. 
When his prognostications of success were fulfilled, he 
everywhere sounded her praises. But when she died, 

' Here was born on January 8, 1638, Elisabetta Sirani, emulator of the 
most excellent Guido Reni. Born in January, 1638, dying in August, 
1665, Elisabetta lived twenty-seven years and seven months. The 
" Vixit A. xxvi" on the tablet in the church of S. Dominic is, in fact, an 

"^ Son of Conte Galeazzo Malvasia. B. 1616. D. 1693. 


the victim as he believed of professional jealousy, he 
was filled with morbid regret at having " dedicated her 
to art " ; nay, he " almost wished " he " had never known 
her or aided her." 

Elisabetta's father, Giovanni Andrea, had been Guido 
Reni's favourite pupil. His pictures, touched up by 
his master, were often mistaken for Guido's own ; 
and on the other hand, when Guido died Gianan- 
drea successfully completed several of his unfinished 
pictures. He became, in a sense, Guido's successor 
as a teacher, and was one of the first masters and 
directors of the Life school held in the house of 
Count Ettore Ghislieri. Elisabetta could hardly have 
found a better instructor, and Gianandrea must soon 
have taken pleasure in the progress and the industry of 
his new pupil. The theory that his original reluctance 
to teach her proceeded from a suspicion that her fame 
would eclipse his own accords ill with the paternal 
pride in her success which he subsequently exhibited. 
It probably sprang from a man's conception^ of " a 
woman's true sphere" and a masculine contempt for 
female art. Elisabetta's astonishing success and un- 
alterable filial devotion appear to have effected his 
conversion, for both his younger daughters, Barbara 
and Anne, became professional artists. Their teaching, 
however, fell chiefly to their sister, for Gianandrea 
early in life became a martjn: to rheumatic gout, which 
crippled his hands and prevented him for weeks together 
from! holding a pencil. 

It is evident that Elisabetta's education included the 
outlines of Bible history, the stories of Greece and 
Rome, a smattering of heathen mythology, and a slight 


acquaintance with the legends of the saints. Such 
attainments were de rigueur in polite society, and were 
an indispensable equipment for an artist. 

Incidentally, moreover, we learn that Elisabetta re- 
ceived regular instruction in music and was an apt 
pupil. Picinardi alludes to her harp-playing; and a 
poem of one of her admirers informs us that she sang ; 
while in her " List of pictures made by me, Elisabetta 
Sirani," are three entries of paintings executed as 
gifts " for my music master." Her sister Barbara sub- 
sequently married a professional musician ; and we 
may fairly conclude that the Sirani household were 
to some extent infected by the " musical and theatrical 
frenzy," as Signor Corrado Ricci calls it, prevalent in 
seventeenth -century Bologna. Young and old, lay- 
men and clerics, flocked to the opera. There was 
street music and chamber music ; music in the churches, 
oratorios and operettas in seminaries and convents. 
Towards the close of this century the civil and religious 
authorities, finding these musical tendencies subversive 
of public decency and conventual discipline, made 
strenuous but futile efforts to destroy them. It was 
decreed that marriage with a dancing-girl or singer 
should be held a disqualification for public office. 
The Archbishop prohibited instrumental or concerted 
music in churches. The Pope forbade the heads of 
households to " admit any music-master or professional 
musician, whether lay, secular, or regular," to instruct 
their women folk, seeing that "music is most detri- 
mental to the modesty fitting to the sex, distracting 
them from their proper activity and occupation." 


Little as we know of Elisabetta's youth we confidently 
affirm that it did not justify the papal apprehensions. 
Neither her modesty nor her industry were impaired by 
her love of harp and song. The sonnets of her ad- 
mirers, the disjointed statements of Picinardi, the naive 
entries in her own catalogue, and the biographical sketch 
of Malvasia, together give us a perfectly distinct and 
singulary pleasing impression of her character. 

She has a warm heart and a lively temper, and Tsl 
what Jane Austen and her contemporaries would have ' 
called a quiz, habitually amusing her family and friends 
with her caricatures. But her manners are gracious 
and winning, and she is always a courteous listener. 
She is sincerely pious ; and, " su 1' imbrunire del giorno," 
when the fading light compels her to leave her easel, it 
is her custom to retire for private prayer and medi- 
tation. She is assiduous in tending her ailing father 
— a sufferer from gout, and not always an amiable 
patient. She holds his wishes as commands, save when 
he urges her to spend time and money on her own 
adornment. She believes in plain living and high 
thinking. Her art is a pearl of great price; she is 
luxurious in colour, opulent in invention, and can afford 
to eat simply and dress plainly; "quella," says Picinardi, 
"che ritendo la maesta nelle opere non la ricercava nelle 
gonne, n^ su le mense." She looks out upon the world 
with the candid gaze and dignified composure exhibited 
by her portrait in the Pinacoteca of Bologna. Her 
activity is immense. She rises early, and disdains none 
of the occupations which Clement XI considered so much 
more " proper to the sex " than the study of music. 
She cheerfully performs the most menial tasks. She has 


her own atelier, too, with quite a large number of girl 
students. Oretti gives us the names of some of them. 
There were her own two sisters, both of whom became 
more than tolerable artists. There was Veronica Fon- 
tana, later known throughout Italy as a first-rate wood- 
engraver: the engravings in Malvasia's Felsina Pit- 
trice were by her. Then there was Caterina Pepoli and 
Maria Elena Panzacchi, of whom we know nothing 
save that they came of good old Bolognese families; 
Camilla Lanteri and Lucretia Forni, who painted 
several large and tolerable sacred pictures ; and Veronica 
Franchi, whose predilection was for mythological sub- 
jects. Lastly, there was Ginevra Cantofoli, sometimes, 
but groundlessly, represented as Elisabetta's enemy and 
rival, who had much more talent than any of her com- 
panions. Her portrait, painted by herself, hangs in the 
Bolognese room in the Brera Gallery ; and there is a 
good picture by her in that Calcina Chapel in the 
church of S. Giacomo Maggiore for which Lavinia 
Fontana painted her large Madonna. 

Thus between teaching, and executing a steadily in- 
creasing number of commissions, EHsabetta becomes 
at an early age the principal bread-winner of the 
family. All her earnings go to her father ; only the 
presents, the jewels and trinkets she receives over and 
above the stipulated prices of her pictures, are retained 
for her own use. She rejoices in work and in success, 
and is unspoilt by flattery. "All the gentlemen and 
■ great persons who visit Bologna '' go to see her paint ; 
and she has so much self-assurance, and so little self- 
consciousness, that their presence is no embarrassment 
to her. Her sweetness is not insipid. Her strength 


is free from self-assertion. She is comely and devoid 1 
of vanity, eminently attractive, and entirely virtuous. / 
Even the ugly publicity of a poisoning case fails to/ 
sully the whiteness of her fame. / 

It is a fair picture, and seems all the fairer because it 
hangs in a seventeenth-century Italian portrait gallery. 
Around it are likenesses of frail beauties and professed 
libertines ; of women whose passions and extravagance 
were equally boundless ; of men who had made a fine 
art of vice, who were epicures and conoscenti in de- 
bauchery; of ecclesiastics who lived in pagan self- 
indulgence and cared not at all for the feeding of their 
flocks ; of " sheep " who never dreamed of " looking 
up," and were hungry for no spiritual food. 

It is surely a tribute to the healthy and enduring 
influence of English Puritanism that the immorality 
of the Restoration Court never filtered down to the 
lower strata of English society ; whereas in Italy the 
corruption confined in the sixteenth century to courts 
and palazzi had in the seventeenth infected the 
whole body politic. There was, moreover, something 
peculiarly repulsive in the vice of the seventeenth 
century ; it had neither barbaric grandeur nor medieval 
naivete, neither renaissance splendour nor rationalistic 
consistency — it was merely barocco. The crimes of the 
period are bizarre; the tissue of adulterous intimacy 
is of ugly and whimsical design. 

In such an environment Elisabetta Sirani passed a 
pure and industrious life, finding in the retirement of 
her sick father's home, and in unceasing labour, the 
shelter which in an earlier age she would have sought, 
perhaps, like Caterina Vigri, in a cloister. Her life was 


one of conventual monotony and calm ; the arrival of 
an order, the completion of a picture, the visit of some 
distinguished person who came to see her paint, the 
feasts of the Church and the public spectacles and 
processions connected with them, are its only mile- 
stones. Now the country without a history may be 
happy but is seldom progressive, and the individual 
without one Tobtains tranquillity at the price of com- 
plete self-development. Elisabetta's pictures reflect the 
beauty and the limitations of her life. They display 
ao^Jieimnine weakness, sentimentality, or indecision ; 
indeed, the girl's sure touch and bold invention were 
the features which most impressed her contemporaries ; 
they are never pretentious tours de force ; they are 
never without dignity. But they have no dan; they 
do not set the beholder thinking, wondering. All is 
on the canvas before him, "all is placid and perfect." 
Elisabetta's execution was more than equal to her 

It is perhaps futile, but it is certainly interesting, to 
speculate on the effect which change of scene or of 
emotions would have produced on this woman-artist's 
work. Picinardi tells us that she longed to travel ; 
and to estimate the fervour of her desire and the pain 
of its non-realization, we must remember that her 
training and her principles were those of the Bolognese 
Eclectic school. The sonnet^ is well known in which 

' Chi farsi un buon pittor cerca, e desia, 
II disegno di Roma abbia alia mano 
La mossa coll' ombrar Veneziano 
E 11 degno colorii di Lombardia. 


Annibale Carracci formulated his artistic creed: He who 
would be a good painter must go to Rome for his 
drawing, to Venice for his chiaroscuro, to Lombardy 
for his colouring : he must unite Michael Angelo's 
grand manner with Correggio's sweetness, and imitate 
Titian's truth to nature and Raphael's balanced com- 
position. To a modern mind Annibale's prescription 
contravenes the essence of great and sincere art ; and 
is calculated to produce an effect similar to that arrived 
at by Portia's English lover who " bought his doublet in 
Italy, his round hose in France, his bonnet in Germany, 
and his behaviour everywhere." 

But the sonnet represents the creed which Elisabetta 
professed ; and it is a counsel of impossible perfection to 
an untravelled painter. 

We cannot doubt that even a brief sojourn in Rome, 
in France, or in Venice would have enlarged her horizon 
and enriched her imagination. It is more difficult to 
prognosticate the effects of marriage and maternity. It 
is possible that a subtler beauty, an intenser feeling 
would have stolen into the faces of her sweet Madonnas 
had she herself known a mother's joys and sorrows ; 
but it is at least as possible that excessive or defective 

Di Michael Angiol la terribil via, 
II vero natural di Tiziano, 
Del Corregio lo stil puro e sovrano, 
E di un Rafael la giusta simmetria, 

Del Tibaldi il decoro, e il fondamento 
Del dotto Fiimatticio I'inventare, 
E un po'di grazia del Farmigianino. 
Ma senza tante studii, e tanto stento 
Si ponga I'opre solo ad imitare 
Che qui lasciocci il nostio Nicolino. 


matrimonial happiness would have quenched her genius 
and suspended her artistic activity. 

Had I been two, anotHer and myself, 
Our head would have o'erlooked the world, 

is the cry which Browning puts into the mouth of the 
" Faultless Painter," while showing how his art was 
crippled and debased by the influence of an unworthy 

That this gifted and attractive woman should have 
died unwedded at the age of twenty-seven — an age 
regarded as young indeed for death, but hopelessly late 
for marriage — is a fact which perplexed her fellow- 
citizens, and has been discussed by her biographers. 
There were two contemporary explanations of the 
artist's celibacy. Some held, Malvasia tells us, that 
Gianandrea prevented his daughter from marrying ; 
while others believed that for art's sake she elected to 
live single, and that indeed her only true affinity was 
the master she joined in the grave.^ The mere existence 
of the latter theory is a proof of the unique impression 
which Elisabetta's strong and pure personality produced 
on the mind of her contemporaries. For we must 
remember that happy and respected spinsterhood of 
the modern Anglo-American type is still somewhat of 
a puzzle to Latin nations and was unknown in earlier 
epochs. A right-minded Italian parent in the seven- 
teenth century married his daughters young to preserve 

' Innupta 
Quia nulli digne nubenda 
Farem sibi thalamum reservavit in tumulo 
Guidoni Rheno conjuncta. 


their reputations and provide for their protection ; and <;^ 
when a life of chastity was deliberately embraced, it 
was accompanied by retirement from this world, and / 
inspired by the hope of corresponding compensations / 
in the next. 

That Elisabetta, with her refined temper and artistic 
sensibility, was hard to please, that like Lavinia Fontana 
she may have vowed to marry no one who would not 
leave her " mistress of her art," we may readily believe : 
that, as Count Beri's sonnet declared, she was " a lady 
who knew not love"^ is probably too large an assumption. 
Her latest and most conscientious biographer. Signer 
Manaresi, has constructed a pretty if vague romance out 
of certain entries in her catalogue. In the year 1661, 
when she was twenty-three, she painted Love for the 
first time ; and her Cupid, with his bow and arrows 
bound together beneath his feet, pointed to his quiver 
which was full of gold pistoles. In 1665 the Duchess 
of Brunswick visited Elisabetta's studio, and in her 
presence the artist painted a cupid in the act of wounding 
himself with an arrow, while contemplating his own 
reflection in a glass. " Intendami chi puo che m' intend' 
io ec," are the words added to the entry of this picture. 
It is an ambiguous phrase, and the concluding "ec." 
may indicate that it is merely a quotation. It is note- 
worthy, however, that contrary to her usual habit, 
Elisabetta does not name the purchaser or ultimate 
possessor of this cupid ; and it does not appear that 
the Duchess of Brunswick ordered it. Signor Manaresi 
believes that both pictures alluded to personal experience 
and are charged with specific messages, and that jve may 

' " Fu donna in terra e non conobbi amore.'' 


possibly infer from them that a deficient dowry was an 
obstacle in love's true course. But if this fancy comes 
near the truth, it after all merely reinforces the well- 
founded and popular opinion that paternal selfishness 
was the cause of Elisabetta's celibacy. There is a 
passage in Malvasia's Felsina Pittrice which illuminates 
the situation. He tells us that Elisabetta's catalogue 
does not represent her total output of work ;^ among 
other things it excludes sundry " small heads and little 
figures" executed on the sly (de soppiato) without 
her father's knowledge, in order that with the proceeds 
she might oblige her mother in some domestic diffi- 
culty. The father chained to his couch and irritable 
from gout : the mother unable to make both ends meet 
and afraid to ask for money : the grown-up daughter 
obliged to aid her mother secretly, and unable even 
to enter her little pictures in her catalogue, because 
it was subject to the greedy scrutiny of her father, who 
claimed "for the account and common benefit of the 
house " the earnings which might have been spent on 
travel or saved for a dowry; — it is a little sketch of 
domestic tryanny, and it enables us to understand why 
Elisabetta's parents were not anxious to arrange a mar- 
riage for their daughter. 

The interrogatories of the witnesses in the " Pro- 
cesso" throw vivid side-lights on the condition of the 
Sirani household during the last six months of Elisa- 
betta's life. The state of things is dreary and de- 
pressing. Gianandrea is a helpless sufferer : his wife has 

' Oretti tells us of twenty of these pictures done "senza saputa 
di suo Padre." (Gozzadini MS., 120). 


lately had a paralytic seizure : there are " servant 
worries " — petty annoyances felt keenly by a busy 
woman. The necessity for work is greater than ever, 
while the combination of labour and anxiety is be- 
ginning to tell on the artist's health and spirits. 

In Lent, 1665, she experienced premonitory symp- 
toms of her fatal disease : the pain in the stomach 
" went away of itself without the aid of any remedy " ; 
but the buxom, cheerful girl began to lose flesh and 
colour, and to grow pinched and melancholy, so that 
every one noticed, and wondered at, the transformation. 

Towards the middle of August the pain returned, 
increasing in intensity after eating. The family physi- 
cian was at that time attending Barbara Sirani, who lay 
in bed, sick of a fever, and Elisabetta took this oppor- 
tunity of seeking medical advice. Dr. Gallerati said 
her suffering was due " to some slight fluxion or 
catarrh " ; and since " it was no time to take medicine, 
the sun being in Leo," he prescribed merely " a little 
acid syrup " to be taken in the morning fasting. The 
syrup was duly made by Aunt Giacoma, Gianandrea's 
sister, who presided in the kitchen, and Elisabetta 
thought it did her good — " at times she felt the pain, 
but it did not really trouble her " — and upon August 
the twenty-fourth. Saint Bartholomew's Day, she was 
well enough to go with her mother to see the brave 
shows and gay doings in the Piazza del Gigante. 

The Festival of the Little Vig, porcketta ox porcellina, 
annually held on the day of Saint Bartholomew, was 
the most characteristic of the many festivals which 
brightened the life of the populace in medieval Bologna. 
Its origin is obscure. The older historians declare 


that it commemorated the fall of Faenza, that is to 
say, the complete victory of the Bolognese Guelfs, and 
that its name was derived from the fact, that Faenza 
was betrayed by one Tebaldello^ (whom Dante conse- 
quently consigns to the Inferno) because the Lambert- 
azzi, leaders of the Bolognese Ghibellines, had stolen 
from him "duos pulcherrimos porcos."^ But modern 
writers, less ready to accept specious derivations, have 
discovered traces of the Festival of the Porchetta^ 
thirty years before the fall of Faenza* The festa 
probably commemorates the luckless Enzio's entry as a 
captive on August 24, 1249 ; while the peculiar feature 
of the day's proceedings, the throwing of eatables from 
the balcony of the Palazzo Pubblico to the crowd in the 
Piazza below, undoubtedly represents an ancient Roman 
usage. The appearance and importance of the sucking 
pig among these articles of largesse — roast fowls, bread, 
salt meats^ — was doubtless due to the Bolognese par- 
tiality for pork,* a taste by no means extinct, as the 
large manufacture of salumi and mortadella testifies. 
Moreover, we find that sucking pig and roast fowls were 
prizes given both at Ferrara and Modena* at the annual 
horse-races, and this previous to the Bolognese victory 
at Faenza, and " secundum consuetudinem." 

' " Tebaldello, Ch' apri Faenza, quando si dormia " (Inferno, XXXII, 

° Benvenuto da Imola, c. Inferno, XXXII. 

* Guidicini, Cose notdbili di Bologna, Vol. II. 

* Savioli, Annali, III, 232. 

^ John Evelyn, who visited Bologna twenty years before Elisabetta's 
death, remarks : "This Citty is famous also for sausages." 

^ Muratori, Antiq. ItaU, II, 856. Mazzoni-Toselli, Rauonti Storici, 
II, 523-6- 


The festival, after having been celebrated some five 
hundred and forty-seven times, was killed by the en- 
trance of the French in 1796. It would, however, have 
been extinguished naturally and inevitably by the 
growing habit of the villeggiatura. In the seventeenth 
century wealthy aristocrats repaired in summer to their 
suburban villas ; but the majority of citizens sweltered 
in the dark and airless alleys of Bologna like rabbits in 
a warren, enjoying long social evenings on the cool pave- 
ments underneath the colonnades, and inhaling, un- 
troubled by sanitary scruples, the miasmas arising from 
the open sewers in the centre of the streets, where 
every sort of garbage festered till slowly removed by 
intermittent flushing. But in this twentieth century the 
F5ast of Saint Bartholomew finds Bologna emptied of 
all but the poorest and most indispensable of its in- 
habitants ; and a crowd could hardly nowadays be 
drawn to the Piazza in the August heat even by a 
spectacle similar to that with which Marchese Ferdinand 
Cospi delighted his fellow-citizens in the year of grace 

To celebrate his third election as Gonfalonier, and to 
welcome and impress the new Legate, Cardinal Caraffa, 
Cospi determined to keep the Feast of the Porchetta 
with more than usual magnificence. Besides the cus- 
tomary largesse to the crowd, sweetmeats, fans, and 
gloves were bestowed on the noble ladies who filled the 
windows and balconies of the Palazzo Pubblico ; while 
in the square below a marvellous pageant was arranged. 
A pasteboard Vesuvius vomited flamds ; two lesser 
mountains were the abode respectively of a knight and 
of a sorcerer, and battle in mid-air was waged between 


the two, the knight being mounted on a pasteboard 
steed, the sorcerer upon a dragon. 

As Elisabetta and her mother stood looking at this 
spectacle (we may presume from some reserved and 
secure place, for accidents were common in the Saint 
Bartholomew crowd), Margherita more than once in- 
quired how her daughter felt. And Elisabetta answered 
that " she was better " ; that " if she did not think 
about the pain she did not feel it." ' 

Perhaps the novelty of the spectacle, the greetings of 
friends, the gaiety of the scene, were really a nervous 
stimulus cheating the girl into belief in her own cure; 
she was at all events cheerful and uncomplaining till, 
on the twenty-sixth, the pain returned with violence 
after she had dined. Still she did not give in ; and 
next day, after the mid-day meal, while her mother 
went to her room to enjoy a customary siesta, and 
Aunt Giacoma went out to see the fair which accom- 
panied and extended the Feast of the Porchetta, the 
artist repaired to her studio upstairs and began to 
work at the picture she was executing "for the Em- 
press," that is, for Eleanore Gonzaga, Ferdinand Ill's 

But " about twenty of the clock," that is, about 4 p.m.,^ 
Aunt Giacoma, coming in from the fair, found her niece 
descending the stairs with great difficulty. She entered 
the room on the ground-floor where Barbara lay ill in 
bed, and, sinking on to a stool, gasped, "Sister, I have 
such horrible pain iii the stomach, I feel as though I 

' The Bolognese reckoned their time from the Ave Maria of the pre- 
ceding evening; twenty hours after the last Ave Maria, that is from 
our 8 p.m., would be 4 p.m. 


should die." And indeed Barbara thought she would 
die there and then. 

Margherita hurried in, drew her daughter into her 
own room, and put her into her own bed. She was 
already but half-conscious and bathed in a cold sweat. 
Dr. Gallerati was sent for, but was not at home, and so, 
the case being urgent. Dr. Matessilani was summoned 
from the near Ospedale della Morte. 

In the evening the family physician called, but his 
remedies were useless, or worse. All night the mother 
and Aunt Giacoma applied hot cloths to the cold body. 
Sometimes they brought a lamp to the bedside, and saw 
with sinking hearts that the patient's face was drawn 
and death -like, her feet and fingers a dull purple. 
From time to time the faintness and perspiration 
returned ; there was no sleep, no cessation of pain. 

Morning brought the doctor's visit. He bade Mar- 
gherita send for the parish priest. The dying girl 
confessed, and received the last sacraments. 

As the day wore on she seemed a little easier, a little 
warmer, and hope revived in the heart of the poor 
father who lay in bed upstairs listening to the sounds 
below, waiting anxiously for news and feverishly turn- 
ing it over in his mind. But towards evening the 
patient was again seized with faintness, and very 
quickly and quietly, in the presence of the doctors, 
Gallerati and Matessilani, she passed "from this to 
another life." 

The bereaved father demanded a post-mortem ex- 
amination. It took place next day, "the first doctors 
in Bologna " being present. Some of them — and of 


these was the family physician, Dr. Gallerati — thought 
they discerned clear traces of the administration of 
"corrosive poison," and on the last day of August 
Giovanni Andrea Sirani addressed a memorial to the 
Legate and set the machinery of the law in motion. 



So in this book lay absolute truth, 
Fanciless fact, the documents indeed. 
Primary lawyer-pleadings for, against. 

the trial 
Itself, to all intents, being then as now 
Here in the book and nowise out of it ; 
Seeing there properly was no judgment-bar. 
No bringing of accuser and accused, 
And whoso judged both parties, face to face 
Before some court, as we conceive of courts. 
There was a Hall of Justice ; that came last ; 
For Justice had a chamber by the hall 
Where she took evidence first, summed 'up the same, 
Then sent accuser and accused alike. 
In person of the advocate of each 
To weigh its worth. 

Browning, The Ring and the Book. 

'""P^HE death is announced of the poor Sirana from 
JL poison given, it is believed, by a wretched maid- 
servant now in the Archbishop's prison." ^ Thus the 
Marchese Ferdinando Cospi, writing a few days after 
Elisabetta's death. And from that time to this the 
on dit has been repeated in romance, in guide-books, in 

' Archivio della R. Galleria di Fireme, published by Jacopo Cavallucci 
Rivista di Firenze, 1858. 



histories of art, until it has acquired the consistency and 
strength of indisputable fact. 

Recently, however, a very powerful battering-ram has 
been brought to bear upon an edifice founded on the 
quicksands of medical ignorance and built of successive 
suppositions. With the object of " cutting short once 
for all the erroneous and unwholesome tradition con- 
cerning the cause of the painter's death," Signor 
Antonio Manaresi has published the entire Processo di 
Avvelenamento, translated into Italian, and abridging 
the Latin portions. To this publication we shall do 
well to turn, not only, or even chiefly, because it affords 
material for a right judgment on a specific question, but 
because the nature of the accusation and the conduct 
of the trial are intensely characteristic of the country 
and the period. 

The seventeenth century is the golden age in the 
history of secret poisoning. Throughout the sixteenth 
century the mania gathered force ; in the seventeenth 
it spread to France and touched the shores of England. 
In Rome there existed a secret society of women 
poisoners to which some of the wealthiest and best-born 
Roman ladies belonged ; while in Paris it was found 
necessary to institute a special court for the investiga- 
tion of poisoning cases — La Chambre Ardente. It is 
hardly an exaggeration to say that the apprehension of 
poison attended any and every malady the causes of 
which were not obvious and certain. It has sometimes 
been stated that in Elisabetta's case suspicion was 
primarily awakei^ed by certain post-mortem phenomena 
— the body swelled, the nose thickened, the face was 
strangely transformed and aged. But in reality these 


changes in the corpse merely gave a picturesque vrai- 
semblance to the rumour of foul play already current in 
the city. " I heard it said publicly in this city of 
Bologna'' — this is the evidence of Donzelli, one of 
Gianandrea's pupils — " that the aforesaid Elisabetta had 
been poisoned, and this I heard before she died, even 
when she was seized, as I heard say, with great pain in 
the stomach." 

The report probably originated in a dark hint from 
Dr. Gallerati, who was completely puzzled by his 
patient's symptoms and the powerlessness of his own 
prescriptions to relieve them. 

Elisabetta' s death was rapid, painful, and mysterious ; 
therefore it must have been caused by poison. This is the 
first tier in the fantastic edifice of supposition. And 
the second is like unto it : Poison is generally given in 
food ; therefore the poisoner was probably the maid-of-all- 
work in the Sirani family. " I know not who could 
have given poison to my daughter," — it is the mother 
who speaks, — " but truly I have suspected that Lucia 
Tolomelli our servant must have been the person who 
gave it, either in soup or in drink, or in some other way, 
because while serving in the house she did not lack the 
means of doing this treachery to my daughter." Gian- 
andrea and Margherita discussed the possibility of poison 
as a cause of death much as a modern parent in like 
case might consider the possibility of sewer gas. They 
cast about them for a criminal as a householder to-day 
seeks for a defective drain-pipe : and as the latter, 
having localized his suspicions, sends for a sanitary 
inspector, the former, having formulated his accusation, 
addressed a memorial to the Legate. 


Those who are depressed by " the servant problem " 
of the present day may find comfort in studying the 
manners and customs of seventeenth-century lackeys 
and waiting-women. Never were servants more worth- 
less and more numerous. Display rather than necessity 
regulated their numbers ; and the comfort in which 
they lived relatively to that of the class to which they 
belonged formed an attraction to the least desirable 
characters. Wages were low, but the practice of tipping 
was carried to a preposterous extent. Pert waiting- 
maids were fee'd by the lovers of their mistress, and 
successfully copied her intrigues. Greedy lackeys pre- 
sumed at their own pleasure to dismiss or admit their 
master's visitors, while they involved him in their inter- 
household quarrels, imitated his vices, and wasted his 
substance in riotous living. 

Lucia Tolomelli was not, however, a fine lady's 
waiting-maid. She was merely a maid-of-all-work in a 
humble establishment, and had much the same charac- 
teristics» virtues, and defects as an average modern 
"general." She came with a good character, and though 
no " treasure," evidently gave satisfaction, for her 
mistress was surprised, annoyed, and distressed when, 
after nearly three years' service, she suddenly "gave 
notice." Her duties were to sweep and dust, help Aunt 
Giacoma in the kitchen, and open the door to the visitors 
who came to see Elisabetta paint. When such guests 
were expected Lucia was allowed to comb and dress 
her hair ; otherwise this luxury was forbidden her save 
on Thursdays and Sundays, and then " she did it over- 
night so as not to lose time in the morning." She had 
no " evenings out," nor was she permitted to leave the 


house save when required to accompany one of her 
mistresses. She had her meals with the family, and 
was treated with the kindly familiarity more common 
in Italian than in English households. She received 
the magnificent wage of four pauls a month, less 
than twenty shillings a year, but she doubtless got an 
occasional mancia from Elisabetta's visitors, and, like 
other servants, she received a little present from the 
family on the occasion of the annual St. Bartholomew 

But in her third year of service, shortly before the 
Porchetta Festival, she announced her intention of 
quitting the Sirani household. Elisabetta told her " to 
sleep over it." She awoke next morning in the same 
mind. Gianandrea summoned her to his bedside, and 
made an appeal to her better feelings. Did she not 
see that her departure was peculiarly ill-timed, con- 
sidering that he, his wife, and his daughter Barbara 
were ill? He would never have believed Lucia could 
have treated the family so badly as to depart without 
giving them time to find another servant. 

But Lucia was obdurate, and the week's notice, 
usually required both by master and servant in Bologna 
in the present day, does not seem to have been obliga- 
tory in the seventeenth century. Accordingly the Sirani, 
anxious in spite of their annoyance to do what was 
right by an orphan girl, sent for her cousin, one Casa- 
rini, a tailor, who had placed her with them, and for her 
brother-in-law, servant to Signer Gualandi, the Govern- 
ment Secretary. 

Now Lucia had fully intended to go to the house of 
this Pagliardi, her sister's husband, but when Signor 


Sirani asked the two men if either of them could 
receive the girl, they both answered no. Casarini then 
interviewed his tiresome young cousin in the kitchen, 
and appealed to her self-interest, pointing out that an 
orphan should not lightly lose a comfortable place. 
Lucia was as little moved as she had been by the argu- 
ments of the " Padrone." 

Then by the advice of Gianandrea, Lucia's relatives 
determined to place her temporarily in the " Mendi- 
canti," or Poor House ; and the poor, then as now, 
having little love for such institutions, they resorted to 
a stratagem, telling her they would put her in " a family 
outside the walls." 

Thus " on the day of the vigil of the Madonna " (i.e. 
on August 14), Lucia, accompanied by her brother-in- 
law and cousin, left the little house in Via Urbana, and 
made her way past the two famous leaning towers, and 
along the street, and out through the gate of S. Donato,^ 
to the institution founded by S. Carlo Borromeo, when 
Legate in Bologna in 1 560. 

Ten days later, when Elisabetta lay in mortal anguish, 
" it was said publicly in this city of Bologna " " that the 
poison was given to Signora Elisabetta by Lucia when 
servant in the house; because" — such is the evidence of 
one of Gianandrea's pupils — " the aforesaid Lucia after 
she had heard the aforesaid Signora complain of pain 
in the stomach, gave notice and departed without 
having any reason, albeit, as I have heard said, she was 
entreated not to leave the aforesaid service ; but she was 
determined to go away, without being able to state any 
cause for doing so, and albeit it was nigh upon the 
^ Now Zamboni. 


time of the fair, when, according to custom, she might 
expect a present." 

Thus described, the fact and date of Lucia's depar- 
ture become a presumption of her guilt. But was that 
departure — as the Sirani and their friends represented it 
to be — (i) quite sudden ; (2) quite groundless ; (3) con- 
sequent on Elisabetta's symptoms ? 

Now (i) Lucia herself asserted, and her statement was 
confirmed by another witness,^ that she wished to depart 
many months previously, and that Elisabetta's kindness 
and persuasion alone induced her to remain. Moreover 
(2) it is by no means true that she was " unable to state 
any cause for her departure." On the contrary, she 
stated a number of causes which were perhaps intrinsic- 
ally inadequate, but which to her seemed weighty and 
cogent. She was " sick of being scolded " she told her 
cousin Casarini, sick of Margherita's nagging tongue, 
and of the sense that, try as she might, she never 
succeeded in giving satisfaction. Most of all she re- 
sented the phrase of her Padrona that she " ate the bread 
of idleness." Silly little servant-girl as she was, she 
wearied of the dreary routine, the watchful strictness of 
the invalidish household. She was probably not un- 
comely, — we are told that she had lovely hair, — and her 
master declared " she was ready to fall in love with every 
one she saw." She wanted to " go out sometimes," and 
to dress her hair " as other girls do." She admitted that 
she was "well treated," but she was not happy in the 

' "lo son informata che la detta Lucia, avanti che si partisse di casa 
delli Signori Sirani, diasse di voler partire, chk lo cominci6 a dire di Natale ; 
ed io lo so perchfe glie I' ho sentito dire." Interrogatorio di Anna Maria 
Donnini, 26 giugno, 1666, 


Sirani household. She knew, she told the Judge, that 
she should lose her fairing by giving notice previous to 
the Feast of the Porchetta, but " she couldn't stand it 
any more." 

Again, (3) it is difficult after comparing and collat- 
ing the evidence of various witnesses to connect 
Elisabetta's symptoms with Lucia's departure. It is 
indeed true that Lucia is the only person who mentions 
the attack of pain during the preceding Lent ; but the 
testimony of aunt and mother as to Elisabetta's pallor 
and emaciation corroborate their servant's statement. 
The pain returned, according to Margherita, on "the 
second or third day after San Lorenzo," i.e. on 12 or 13 
August, a day or two before Lucia's departure on the 
14th ; but Lucia declared that her young mistress was 
ailing for " a good while," un pezzo, before her departure, 
and Anna Maria Donnini, the charwoman, speaks of 
"a month." 

And while it can hardly be said that Lucia departed 
" as soon as she heard the Signora Elisabetta complain 
of pain in the stomach," it is equally clear that the 
girl spoke what she believed to be the truth when she 
protested that the Signora was not ill when she took 
leave of her. For neither the father nor the family 
physician viewed Elisabetta's indisposition seriously. 
Dr. Gallerati prescribed " a little acid syrup " ; and 
Gianandrea, when he reasoned with the obstinate Lucia, 
did not number his eldest daughter among "the 
invalids of the house," ^ who would be inconvenienced 
by the absence of a servant. 

' Gianandrea's words are : " ritrovandosi ammalata mia moglie, Bar- 
bara mia figliola ed io." 


The Sirani family found an additional proof of 
Lucia's guilt in the illness of the before-mentioned 
Anna Maria Donnini, a girl whom they frequently 
employed as messenger and charwoman. Now Anna 
Maria was a minx, and hysterical to boot. She was 
made much of by her employers, and discussed them 
freely with their servant. She encouraged Lucia's 
grumbling, listened to her silly but innocent con- 
fidences and sympathized with her girlish vanity, and 
then reported to the Padrone all that the girl " said or 
did." Gianandrea affirmed that Lucia became aware 
of this espionage and bore ill-will to Anna Maria. 
But Lucia assured the examining magistrate that 
Anna Maria had always been her friend, and that 
there had never been any unpleasantness between 

Anna Maria and her mother were both employed in 
the Sirani house on 14 August, 1665. The mother, 
Antonia Donnini, went home to dinner ; the daughter 
remained that she might "take a picture to the house 
of Count Annibale Ranuzzi," doubtless EUsabetta's 
" Carita " in which Count Ranuzzi's sister was portrayed 
as " Charity," the children being his little nephews. 

Gianandrea said that Anna Maria had better have 
some food before she started on her errand, so that if 
she " were kept waiting by the Signor Count she might 
not suffer " ; and the minx accordingly repaired to the 
kitchen. Was Lucia alone there ? This was the crucial 
question of the trial. Lucia asserted the presence of 
Aunt Giacoma ; Anna Maria declared that she found 
no one in the kitchen but the servant. 

It was a fast day — the vigil of the Assumption — and 


the family meal was to consist simply of a little fish and 
pancotto, that is, bread soaked in water and then beaten 
with a spoon to the consistency of thick gruel, when it 
is flavoured with spices or eaten with salt and olive oil. 
This common food of the poorer classes in Italy was 
simmering in an earthenware vessel on the fire when 
Anna Maria appeared and asked for her meal. Lucia 
took a ladleful of the as yet unflavoured pancotto and 
put it on a plate. Anna Maria tasted it and said it was 
insipid. Lucia forthwith added something to the taste- 
less pap. What was this flavouring? Lucia declared 
that it was merely pepper taken from the kitchen 
pepper-box which stood on the shelf among the pewter 
plates. Anna Maria asserted that it was a reddish 
powder, which Lucia called cinnamon and took from a 
paper which she drew from her bosom. Pepper or 
cinnamon, Anna Maria found it gritty, ate only a few 
spoonfuls, and then went about her business. 

Lucia then served the family meal in the chamber on 
the ground floor, which for coolness Signora Margherita 
occupied in summer ; and as soon as she and her 
mistresses had eaten she prepared to leave the house. 

Anna Maria was not kept waiting by Count Ranuzzi, 
and she returned at the moment when Lucia's cousin, 
Casarini, was conversing with Signora Margherita, who 
had retired to bed for a siesta. Whether the minx went 
in boldly to report herself, or whether she listened at the 
door, she somehow learned to what kind of "'country 
house " the unfortunate Lucia was about to be conducted. 
She wanted to warn her, but opportunity was wanting ; 
for Lucia was by Barbara's bedside taking leave of the 
sick girl and of the Signora Elisabetta. Anna Maria 


looked in and was included in the good-byes, Lucia 
adding : " Anna Maria, se ho fatto delle ciarle ne 
haveto fate ancor voi : ricordatevi pero che siamo tutte 
due neir istessa posta." (If I have done any silly 
tricks you have also : remember we are both in the same 
boat.) The natural interpretation of the phrase is that 
Lucia when the moment of departure came was a little 
regretful and a little jealous. Anna Maria was now in- 
dispensable to the employers who had always spoilt her. 
She had been told to report to them if Lucia had 
" followers " or stood at the windows ; and Lucia, aware 
of the espionage, wished to remind her late companion 
that she was after all no better than herself. But the 
word ciarle is ambiguous and may be Vxaxi^'sXe^. jugglery. 
And the following year, when the Sirani had enlarged 
the bounds of their suspicions, Barbara remembered 
Lucia's parting shaft and Anna Maria's immediate burst 
of weeping ; and the little incident is recorded on a 
loose sheet of paper lying among the MS. pages of the 
Processo, as one of the reasons for suspecting Anna 
Maria's complicity in Lucia's crime. 

The following day the minx complained of giddiness 
and pain in the stomach, and for fifteen days remained 
in a more or less ailing state in the Sirani service. We 
do not know when she told her mother that she believed 
" Lucia had put something bad in the pancotto " ; but it 
is a relief to hear that Antonia Donnini promptly told 
her daughter that she " was a silly, fanciful girl." Nor 
do we know on what day Dr. Gallerati, after paying 
Barbara a visit, was requested to "look at this poor 
young woman who is continually crying and has become 
insensible." Dr. Gallerati complied with Margherita's 


request, and then sternly told the minx to go about her 
work, informing her mistress that there was "nothing 
the matter with the girl, who must be in love or have 
some nonsense in her head." 

But when Elisabetta had breathed her last, Anna 
Maria again became insensible, and the confessor of the 
deceased hastened to her side. He felt her pulse, and 
then remarked : " This is a queer attack ! She looks as 
though she were dead, and her pulse has not changed." 

In spite of doctor and priest, Gianandrea and his 
wife never seem to have suspected that Anna Maria 
was shamming. They regarded her as co-victim with 
their daughter of Lucia's practices, and they sent her to 
the Ospedale della Morte, where she was treated by one 
of the physicians who had attended Elisabetta, Dr. 
Matessilani. He gave her "ordinary remedies, not 
antidotes or medicaments against poison," and he added, 
" if her illness had been poisoning I should have known 
or at least should have suspected it." He did not unfor- 
tunately give his diagnosis of the case, at least he did not 
do so in his formal interrogatory. It is quite probable, 
and quite conformable to the usages of the times, that he 
privately gave the examining magistrate his opinion of 
Anna Maria's health and of the value of her testimony. 
To a modern reader of the text of the Processo, it 
seems clear that she was an unhealthy girl, nervous and 
hysterical or epileptic. " People said she was consump- 
tive," according to Lucia ; while Gianandrea owned that 
she had been poorly before her attack of giddiness and 
pain, and that on the occasion of the previous Carnival, 
i.e. at a time of special excitement, " gli casca un poco 
di goccia," a vague phrase indicating some sort of fit, 


doubtless of the same character as her subsequent 
attacks of unconsciousness. 

Anna Maria, discharged from the hospital, called at 
the Sirani house. She found its attitude towards her 
strangely changed. She was told, indeed, that she need 
not call again. Shortly afterwards she was arrested. 
With her examination on June ist, 1666, a new phase 
of the trial begins. 

But here we must look back to the summer of the 
preceding year, and review the course of the legal 
proceedings up to this point. 

The poor-house of San Gregorio dei Mendicanti 
belonged, as a religious foundation, to the jurisdiction of 
the Archbishop. There Lucia was arrested by the 
Archbishop's officers in consequence of the report 
current in Bologna which represented her as the 
murderer of the popular artist. When, on the last day 
of August, Gianandrea addressed his memorial to the 
Legate — that is, to the head of the civil government — 
the unhappy girl was already lodged in the Archiepis- 
copal prison, and the fact that she was arrested without 
the instance of the Public Prosecutor, under pretext 
that she should not escape from the aforesaid place — 
i.e. "the Mendicanti" — quickened and enlarged the 
susplicions of the unhappy father. He saw in it an 
attempt to shelter the murderess of his daughter from 
the extreme penalties of the law, for the inmates of 
"the Mendicanti" enjoyed ecclesiastical immunities. 

Cardinal Caraffa transmitted Signor Sirani's memorial 
to the Auditor of the Torrone, and the Processo verbale 
opened the following day (September ist, 1665) with 


the clinical examination of Giovanni Andrea Sirani by 
the Sub-Auditor of the Torrone. 

On September 2nd Anna Maria was visited in the 
hospital, and her deposition taken ; while the Court of 
the Torrone ad effectum ut constet de corpora delictu 
required a certificate of death from the priest of the 
parish, and the depositions of three persons who had 
seen and recognized the body after death. 

A locksmith whose shop faced the Sirani dwelling, 
and who had curiously looked through the window 
into the ground-floor room where the dead artist lay : 
a carpenter wont to stretch her canvases, who had 
measured the body for a coffin : q guardian of^ the 
parish of S. Mamolo, who had helped to bear the coffin 
to the church of S. Domenico — these three persons 
declared that they had known the deceased and that 
they recognized the corpse in spite of its strange dis- 

On the evening of the following day, the keeper of 
the prisons in the Torrone presented himself in the office 
of the examining magistrate, and said that the Arch- 
bishop's officer had consigned to his keeping the person 
of Lucia Tolomelli. 

Elisabetta's mother and aunt were next examined ; 
then Gianandrea's three pupils ; and, on September the 
seventh, Domenico Casarini, Lucia's cousin. The two 
doctors who were foremost in maintaining the theory of 
"administered poison," Dr. Gallerati and one Fabri who 
had assisted at the autopsy, were examined on the 
ninth and tenth of September. 

Thus ends the first act of the trial. An interval of 
several months ensued. Gianandrea chafed and fretted 


at "the law's delay," and wrote bitterly to Cardinal 
Leopoldo de' Medici that he " turned from the higher 
powers of Bologna" to a heavenly tribunal, "where 
justice is not suffocated ; for up to now, under pretext 
of ecclesiastical immunity, this monstrous deed remains 

But in fact the delay seems to have been occasioned 
by hostility, rather than favour, to the prisoner. Her 
removal to the Torrone did not imply a renunciation on 
the part of the Archbishop of his carefully guarded 
ecclesiastical immunities. Lucia's arrest in the Men- 
dicanti protected her from capital punishment. But 
when the evidence of the doctors furnished real ground 
for the belief that a murder had been committed, the 
girl was first returned to the Archiepiscopal prison and 
then sent back to the " Mendicanti." At once dis- 
charged from this asylum, she betook herself to the 
dwelling of her sister, the wife of Pagliardi, in Via 
Maggiore (now Via Mazzini). In this street, on April 
nth, 1666, she was again arrested. 

This time she was taken straight to that part of the 
Palazzo Municipale called the Torrone, wherein were 
the prisons and the rooms of the auditors and notary 
of the Criminal Court. Here she was placed in the 
women's prison, constructed early in the century by 
Pietro Fiorentino.^ And on the twenty-fourth of Apjil, 

^ "And I arranged the prisons under the Legation of the aforesaid 
Cardinal. But first I had made the sick-room (infirmaria) and the women's 
prison ; and I raised the Tower and made a big room where the punish- 
ment of the strappado is given. And I repaired other prisons which were 
uninhabitable under the government of Monsignore Dandino, then vice- 
legate of Cardinal Montalto." (MS. record of Pietro Fiorentino iii the 
University Library, Bologna.) 


1666, she appeared for the first time before the examin- 
ing magistrate. 

This is the end of the second act of the trial. After 
it, proceedings are again suspended. Nine weeks later 
Act III opens with the appearance of Anna Maria in 
the character of Second Murderer. 

The girl still stuck to her tale of the " reddish powder " 
taken from a packet drawn from Lucia's bosom ; but 
the tone of her interrogatorio is very different from 
that of her previous deposition in the hospital. There, 
petted and influenced by the Sirani, she declared that 
Lucia " wished her ill " and had certainly put " some- 
thing bad " in the pancotto. Now, with the Sirani 
doors closed against her, Lucia was " a good girl " who 
had ever been and was still her friend. Nor had she 
herself suspected that " her sickness came from poison 
given in the form of the powder, but Signora Margherita 
had told her it must have been poison, like that which 
had been given to Signora Elisabetta." 

On the same loose sheet among the MS. records of 
the Processo on which Anna Maria's strange seizures are 
described, there is the following curious note : " As to 
the matter of the powder given to Anna Maria it may 
be that it was really innocuous, but was christened poison 
by the aforesaid Anna Maria to cover her crime and 
throw the guilt back upon Lucia," 

But if the reddish powder were innocuous, what 
indication was there that the Sirani's servant girl ever 
had poison in her possession ? As long as Anna Maria 
is held to be Elisabetta's fellow-victim, who escaped 
death only because she consumed but two or three 
spoonfuls of the poisonous pancotto, we have a 


coherent and fairly plausible case against Lucia. But 
when she is transformed into an accomplice, and her 
illness and its cause are subtracted from the sum of the 
evidence against the accused, it is difficult to see what 
is left to indicate Lucia's guilt. There remains only the 
fact of her departure from a house where she had long 
been discontented. 

On August the fourth, Lucia was again examined. 
Her straightforward answers are repetitions of those 
given in the previous April. The two girls were then 
confronted. Each stuck to her previous statement as 
to the flavouring added to the pancotto — which was 
cinnamon-coloured according to Anna Maria, and was 
ordinary pepper from the kitchen pepper-box accord- 
ing to Lucia. Lucia was invited, but refused, to ques- 
tion Anna Maria. Thus ended the third act of the 

The fourth act opens with the orations of the law- 
yers for the defence and for the prosecution. Nicola 
de Lemmi, who appeared procuratore intercessore et 
escusatore, was probably called by the Committee for the 
Defence of the Poor (Ufficio della Difesa dei Poveri), 
a body which has, unfortunately, no modern counterpart. 
He contended that there was no case against the 
accused, while her previous good character and her 
orderly and religious habits — she " was accustomed to 
confess and communicate regularly every year and also 
upon the great festivals " — formed a presumption of in- 
nocence. On the other hand Bianchini, the counsel for 
the prosecution and the personal friend of the Sirani, 
vehemently maintained the dangerous juridical doctrine 
that the graver the crime and the harder to prove, the 


more allowable it is " to proceed by way of conjecture, 
presumption, and partial indication." The perforation 
of the stomach, he maintained, was an indication of 
administered corrosive poison. Again, the sudden 
sickening in the midst of robust health (a mistaken 
assertion this, for Elisabetta had ailed for months), the 
purple extremities, the changes in the corpse, were the 
very signs and tests of poison enunciated by Galen. 
In short, the medical evidence sufficed to prove the fact 
of the crime ; while it was unlikely that anything more 
definite would be discovered unless the prisoner were 

Torture was not resorted to — an omission which the 
Sirani and their friends viewed as an evidence of the 
prisoner's protection by some person in authority. But 
by the seventeenth century torture was kept within 
certain prescribed limits. It was illegal when there 
was no actual proof of crime, and here, in spite of 
Bianchini's assertion to the contrary, it was held " non 
constare satis corpore delicti." It was known that 
two at least of the doctors present at the autopsy 
held the theory of " generated poison " in contradis- 
tinction to that of " administered poison '' ; and that 
they had not already been examined, though Dr. 
Gallerati and Dr. Fabri had appeared as experts for 
the prosecution more than a year before, sufficiently 
indicates that there was no miscarriage of justice in 
favour of the accused, and that if "the trial "were 
"ill -conducted," it was because, as Malvasia reluc- 
tantly admits, "the Auditor always seemed to favour 
Signor Sirani." 

At the eleventh hour these two doctors, Matessilani 


and Oretti, were summoned by Monari, "Advocate of the 
Poor," as experts for the defence. They declared that 
to the best of their belief Elisabetta Sirani had died a 
natural death. 

Lucia Tolomelli's guilt was non - proven ; never- 
theless, in deference to the strong popular feeling 
against her, she was banished from the Legations. 
" A light sentence if guilty, a heavy and undeserved if 
innocent" is Malvasia's comment; and he points out 
that if there were no ground for torture, there could be 
none for exile. His own attitude appears to be one of 
suspended judgment as regards Lucia's instrumentality, 
but of certainty rfespecting the fact of Elisabetta's 
death by a mysterious invida manus. He declares that 
his Christianity and his cloth hardly restrain him from 
cursing the impious being who had deprived the world 
of so great an artist ; while he alludes to some one who, 
when the proud parents used to display the gifts pre- 
sented to their daughter by illustrious sitters, looked on 
with such greedy eyes and such obviously reluctant 
praises that the observant Canon warned his friend 
Sirani that this person was consumed with envy. Lucia 
was asked by the examining magistrate if she knew 
one Lorenzo Zanichelli. Anna Maria was asked if she 
had ever talked with a red-haired painter. Both girls 
answered in the negative. Perhaps this red-haired artist 
was the person Malvasia mentally accused ; perhaps 
Gianandrea also had him in his mind when he declared : 
" I suspect that the aforesaid Lucia has administered 
poison at the instance of another, because we are not 
at enmity with any one, therefore I hold that the afore- 
said, my daughter, has been poisoned on account of 



her talent, that is, that some one has caused her to be 
poisoned out of envy." 

Besides alluding obscurely to his own theory of the 
Envious Hand, Malvasia mentions two other current 
explanations of Elisabetta's fate. Some said that it 
was compassed " by a high and powerful hand " whose 
proffered attentions the artist had rejected. This 
supposition is consonant with the belief that the course 
of justice was prevented in favour of the accused ; 
and Gianandrea's above-quoted letter to the Cardinal 
Leopoldo de' Medici would seem to indicate that he 
forsook his original theory of professional jealousy in 
favour of this more romantic explanation. Others, 
again, spoke of a certain " cavalier grande " mortally 
offended because the artist had drawn him in carica- 

But Malvasia dismisses with scorn both these popular 
suppositions ; those who hold them are " much de- 
ceived." Certainly they presuppose that an honest if 
silly girl could easily be induced to murder a beloved 
mistress. Her affection for Elisabetta is mentioned, or 
is taken for granted, by every witness in the trial ; none 
of them ever suppose that the girl was actuated by 
enmity or spite. Malvasia even makes the curious con- 
jecture that she was induced to administer the poison 
by the assurance that it was a love potion, something 
"which had power to make the signora, whom she 
loved only too well, love her in return." There is 
nothing in the Processo which lends colour to this 
fancy, nor does it diminish the difficulty which attends 
any theory which makes Lucia the instrument of 
another's malice, i.e. how and when she held com- 




munication with any one belonging to the outside 
world. She was closely questioned as to the company 
she kept ; and the single fact elicited was that she once 
talked with a whitesmith called in to mend a kitchen 
pot, a man who had made love to her when she lived 
with her mother. But Margherita promptly sent her 
son and one of her daughters to the cellar to act as 
chaperons ; and for the rest the girl was kept in convent- 
like seclusion. 

In spite of its inherent improbability, and of Malvasia's 
scorn, the story of the caricature was probably seriously 
considered in court, and has been revived in modern 
times. In the year 1844 Signor Michel Angelo Gua- 
landi found a curious pen-and-ink drawing in the 
possession of a certain Bolognese artist in Florence. 
The drawing represented a hideous old man in flop- 
ping hat and long cloak, and appended to it was 
this description : " Portrait from life of one of the 
family of Riali, original by the famous Elisabetta 
Sirani, on account of which she was poisoned by the 
same Riali, and a celebrated painter perished in her 

Signore Gualandi had this drawing engraved, and the 
copy now lying with the MS. of the Processo is doubt- 
less, as Signore Manaresi conjectured, one of these im- 
pressions, placed there by Gualandi when he made his 
transcript of the MS. Unfortunately, Signore Manaresi 
carried his conjecture a step further, and declared that 
the engraving had no seventeenth -century original. 
When the painter, Liverati, died the caricature was 
not found among his effects — " suddenly as rare things 
will it vanished." Signore Manaresi argued from this 


disappearance that the too credulous Gualandi had been 
the victim of a practical joke on the part of his artist 

But the hoax theory had an obvious weakness : it 
involved the further supposition that Liverati was an 
accomplished paleographer ; for although the inscrip- 
tion on the caricature does not correspond precisely 
with any one handwriting in the records of the Processo, 
it is thoroughly seventeenth century in character. 
Happily before this paper was concluded, the existence 
of the original caricature was no longer a question of 
inference and hypothesis. Among the drawings kept, 
and recently put in order by Signore Ferri, Ispettore 
of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the writer discovered 
Elisabetta's grotesque sketch of the hideous old man 
Riali. It came to the gallery in 1866 as part of the 
magnificent collection of Professor Emilio Santarelli, to 
whom it had doubtless been sold or given by the 
Bolognese painter. 

There is a curious appendix to this seventeenth- 
century poisoning case. Perhaps, after the first distress 
and panic were outlived, the unhappy father began to 
feel less certain of Lucia Tolomelli's guilt. Perhaps 
Anna Maria confessed to exaggeration or misstatement. 
Perhaps some positive indication of the little servant's 
innocence came unexpectedly to light. At all events 
on January 3rd, 1668, Giovanni Andrea Sirani sub- 
scribed, for himself and his family, to a very singular 
document. He declared that freely, and for the love of 
God, he made peace with Madonna Lucia Tolomelli, 
cancelling all suits against her, and consenting to the 


erasure of her name from the registers of the third 
bench of the Torrone. 

In the following February Lucia's sentence of banish- 
ment was revoked, and two years later Gianandrea 
passed to his long home. 


Thy pardon for this long and tedious case 
Which now that I review it, needs must seem 
Unduly dwelt on, prolixly set forth ! 

Browning, Epistle of Karshish. 

THE trial of Lucia Tolomelli for the supposed 
murder of her mistress throws a lurid light on 
the medical knowledge and practice of the seventeenth 
century — a century at the beginning of which Bacon, 
in his marvellous review of human learning, had de- 
clared that " Medicine is a science which hath been 
more professed than laboured, and yet more laboured 
than advanced ; the labour having been rather in a circle 
than in progression." * 

We note first the medieval mingling of astrology and 
medicine in Dr. Gallerati's reply to Elisabetta's first 
complaints of pain. He prohibited purgatives — not 
because his diagnosis of "a slight catarrh" was con- 
tradictory to their use, but because "the sun was in 
Leo " and therefore " it was no time to take medicine." 

The remedy he actually prescribed was "a little 
simple acid syrup," to be taken in tablespoonful doses 
the first thing in the morning. This Sciroppa Acetosa 

' Advancement of Learning, book II, X. 3. 


was made by Aunt Giacoma, doubtless according to 
a recognized recipe similar to that given by Lemery in 
his Farmacopea Universale, which is as follows ; — 

"In a glazed earthenware pipkin put two parts 
powdered sugar and one part white wine vinegar. Put 
it over the fire till the sugar liquefies. Skim and 
pour off. 

"It is good as a cooling beverage in burning fevers, 
alleviates thirst, arrests spitting of blood and other 
haemorrhage, and resists poison." 

About the middle of August Elisabetta was troubled 
with an eruption with small pustules which appeared on 
the neck under the chin and at the angle of the jaws. 
She did not consult the family physician for this 
annoying complaint, but successfully employed some 
ointment which Aunt Giacoma " kept in the house." It 
was one of those convent preparations which were the 
medieval equivalents of the modern patent medicine. 
Aunt Giacoma said she was wont to procure it from the 
Sisters of S. Peter Martyr. 

If Elisabetta Sirani were indeed the victim of foul 
play, she was given from first to last every chance in 
the way of antidotes. We have seen that the Simple 
Acid Syrup was said to "resist poison" — an assertion 
probably based on the observed efficacy of acids in 
counteracting alkaline poisons ; and when her mortal 
agony began, and the arrival of the physician was 
delayed, Elisabetta's terrified relations gave her "a little 
Triaca," an electuary which enjoyed for centuries a 
great reputation as a "counter-poison," besides being 
a specific for a vast number of infirmities not arising 
from poison. 


This Triaca, Theriaque or Venice Treacle, was, 
according to Bacon, one of the very few remedies 
in respect of which physicians were content "to tie 
themselves severely and religiously to receipts": and 
for this licence he blames them, declaring that they 
" frustrate the fruit of tradition and experience in add- 
ing and taking out and changing quid pro quo in their 
receipts, commanding so over the medicine as the 
medicine cannot command over the disease."^ It is 
singular that treacle should have been thus signally 
exempted from medical caprice, seeing that the pre- 
scription of Andromach, the physician of Nero, con- 
tained over sixty ingredients, some of which were 
compounds. Nevertheless, it was not till the middle 
of the seventeenth century that any one of them was 
" taken out or changed," and then a certain M. d'Aquin, 
of Paris, first physician to the King, ventured to issue 
a "reformed recipe," and to place the same in the 
Royal Galilean Pharmacopea. 

But if the physicians respected the venerable pre- 
scription, the apothecaries were less scrupulous. There 
was an immense quantity of cheap counterfeit treacle in 
the market. Venice had at first a practical monopoly 
of the manufacture of triaca ; later a good deal was 
made at Montpellier. But as Sieur Pierre Pomet, the 
Paris druggist, tells us, there were sold at fairs whole 
barrelfuls of so-called Theriaque de Montpellier, which 
was merely common honey mingled with mouldy 
roots ; while more fastidious customers were tempted 
by -^rGVcy faience pots, on which were painted two vipers 
crowned with fleurs-de-lis, with the inscription Theria- 
' Advancement of Learning, book il, x. 8. 


que fine de Venise, " quoiqu'elle soit faite a Orleans ou a ' 

In a lengthy treatise on the making of treacle published 
in 1570 by a physician of repute in Naples, we find an 
ingenious justification of the portentous number of in- 
gredients used in Andromach's prescription. There are, 
says the writer Bartolomeo Maranta, many different 
kinds of poison and much diversity in the nature and 
complexion of men. A simple remedy aids one person 
and is useless to another ; it is an antidote against one 
sort of poison and does not withstand a second ; it helps 
a single infirmity, but cannot include virtue equal to a 
great number of maladies. Therefore the first maker of 
Triaca was moved to make a great collection of simples 
to compose an electuary which should be a singular an- 
tidote against all kinds of poison, " for all natures and 
complexions," and should further be helpful to all other 
kinds of infirmities. 

Headache, dimness of sight, mental disturbances ; 
female complaints ; diseases of the liver, stomach, and 
spleen ; congestions, asthma, shortness of breath, blood- 
spitting ; ague, gout, and rheumatic fluxions ; — these are 
some of the complaints for which Triaca, taken in varying 
doses, at various times, undiluted, or mixed with water, 
wine, or acid syrup, is said to be a notable and sovereign 
remedy. Children alone must abstain from this univer- 
sal panacea ; for once, it is naively stated, Galen saw a 
child die the night after he had taken treacle, which is too 
powerful a compound for the infantile digestion. There 
is one other limitation to its use : it is too heating to 
be taken in the height of summer — an injunction disre- 
garded by Elisabetta's relatives. For the rest, " if any 


man is not helped by its means, the failure must be at- 
tributed solely to its bad composition, resulting either 
from ignorance or the negligence of physicians and 

When Dr. Matessilani from the Ospedale della Morte 
reached the patient's bedside, he ordered an injection of 
sweet oil, and friction about the heart with an unguent. 
In the evening Dr. Gallerati, who probably at once sus- 
pected poison, ordered an emetic. The nature of the 
embrocation and emetic is not stated ; but Gianandrea 
is careful to declare that all the medicaments ordered 
by the doctors were procured at the pharmacy of San 
Petronio or of San Paolo, and that the injection was 
given by a nurse from the Ospedale della Morte. These 
facts were important as legal evidence, tending to 
eliminate the possibility that poison was administered 
subsequent to the departure of Lucia Tolomelli. The 
clyster, especially in France, was sometimes a vehicle 
for the introduction of poison ; but to deal with well- 
known druggists, who were employed by physicians of 
repute, and whose shops were situated in the best and 
most public quarters of the city, was something of a 
guarantee that the medicaments used had not been 
tampered with ; whereas many an obscure and starving 
Italian apothecary was ready, like him whom Romeo 
found in Mantua, to brave the penalties of the law and 
sell his fatal knowledge and his drugs for bread. 

When Dr. Gallerati arrived on Friday morning and 
found his patient no better, he prescribed the prepar- 
ation called Elescoff or Episcopi, a purgative electiiary 
containing scammony and cream and salt of tartar. It 
was duly given in a little broth. 


But the patient's condition became hourly more alarm- 
ing. The confessor was sent for ; and the doctor, as a 
last resource, administered some Oil of the Grand Duke 
and a little Bezoar. Beyond the fact that it was an 
esteemed antidote the writer has discovered nothing 
concerning the first-named remedy ; but Bezoar was a 
medicine of great repute. It was a concretion found in 
the stomach and intestines of ruminating animals, and 
the supply being inadequate to the demand, a chemical 
imitation was sometimes employed. It is told of 
Charles IX of France that he resolved to test the 
alleged virtues of Bezoar on the vile body of a cook 
who was believed to have stolen two silver spoons. The 
thief was given a dose of corrosive sublimate followed 
by a dose of Bezoar. The antidote was ineffectual, and 
the wretched man died in agony seven hours later. 

Elisabetta likewise died in spite of Bezoar, plus 
treacle, Elescoff, and Oil of the Grand Duke ;^ and the 
unhappy father, counselled by Dr. Gallerati, demanded 
a post-mortem examination. 

The body was opened by Master Ludovico, Surgeon 
of the Ospedale della Morte. Of the seven physicians 
present, Dr. Fabri alone, and once only, touched the 
corpse. Surgery and dispensing were alike beneath the 
attention of these professors of medicine; nay, acquaint- 
ance with such " manual arts " were sometimes held to 
be disqualifications for a doctor's degree.^ 

' One is reminded of the conduct of Benvenuto Cellini's Roman 
physician, who despaired of his life and left his bedside with the direction : 
" Apply the five medicines one after another." (Memoirs, ch. x, vn.) 

* Vide Niccolo Lemery's Preface: "As if," he says indignantly, "exer- 
cises necessary to the perfection of medicine could be unworthy of a 


In the present day in a case of suspected poison the 
autopsy is followed by a chemical examination of the 
various organs of the body. This analysis largely 
determines the verdict. If traces of poison are dis- 
covered, its quality and approximately its quantity are 
indisputably established. But this seventeenth-century 
post-mortem examination left the doctors divided — not 
indeed as to the facts observed, but as to their interpre- 
tation — and augmented public suspicion without furnish- 
ing substantial evidence against the suspected person. 
Five out of the seven bystanders who from a distance 
noted the perforations of the stomach attributed it to 
the action of corrosive poison. Dr. Gallerati, who had 
previously administered antidotes at random, did not 
venture further than this generic statement. The 
" administered poison " was never named specifically. 

Malvasia, however, who doubtless knew the private 
opinion of the doctors, declares that it was clearly " foul 
and plebeian, such as caustic, commonly called fuoco 
niorto " ; which fact seems to him an argument against 
the theory that the poisoner was a gentleman of im- 

It would seem that arsenic was the poison most 
affected by aristocratic Italian poisoners. It was almost 
certainly the weapon of the Borgias, It was also the 
deadly principle of the colourless, tasteless liquid cir- 
culated in Italy, in the latter half of the seventeenth 
century, in small glass phials, labelled " Aqua Toffana, 
Acquetta di Napoli," or " Manna di San Niccolo di 
Bari." For upwards of fifty years the maker of this 
liquid. La Toffana, carried on a lucrative business of 
indiscriminate niurder. At last, her secret becoming 


widely known, she took refuge in a convent in Naples. 
But public fear and indignation overcame the scruples 
of superstitious piety ; the convent was broken into, 
and the wretched beldame handed over to the civil 
authorities, by whom, in 1709, she was executed. Her 
preparation was reputed to cause the victim's death at 
any determinate period of weeks, months, or even 
years, and that in a peculiarly insidious way, causing 
languor, weariness, loathing for food, and a general 
gradual decay, without any marked symptoms of fever, 
vomiting, or such violent pain as attacked the unfortu- 
nate Elisabetta. 

While fully admitting the terrible prevalence of secret 
poisoning in the seventeenth century, it is certain that 
many deaths described as murders were due to natural 
causes and to diseases unrecognized or misunderstood 
by the physicians of the day. Ptomaine poisoning, for 
instance, was not known ; and many seemingly suspicious 
deaths after the consumption of eel-pie, or similar 
pasties, were doubtless due to these mysterious animal 
poisons. Little, again, was known concerning septic 
poisons ; while blood poisoning, as a result of impure 
water or insanitary surroundings, was recognized dimly 
if at all. Yet the majority of town-dwellers habitually 
drew their water from wells polluted by the infiltration 
from filthy streets, while advances in public decency were 
converted into dangers to public health by a lack of 
knowledge of the elements of sanitary engineering and 
a blissful ignorance of the perils of ill-placed cess- 
pools and leaking drain-pipes. 

Again, when chemistry was still in swaddling clothes, 
and suspicion could not be confirmed or dispelled by 


the analyst, the suggestion of poison was an absolutely 
secure refuge for the ignorant physician. And all 
seventeenth-century physicians were ignorant, need- 
lessly ignorant, of what Bacon calls " the footsteps of 
diseases and their devastations of the inward parts." 
The great lawyer justly arraigns the medical profession 
for the lack of systematic and recorded observation, 
for the "discontinuance of medicinal history." While 
members of his own profession have for centuries been 
careful to report new cases and decisions for the 
direction of future judgment, physicians had made no 
notes of things which " might have been observed by 
the multitude of anatomies " (i.e. post-mortem examina- 
tions), but which "now upon opening of bodies are 
passed over slightly and in silence." 

The opening of the body of Elisabetta Slrani illus- 
trates and justifies this condemnation of the medical 
profession. Only one of the seven doctors present — i.e. 
Doctor Fabri, shown by his interrogatory to have been 
a more careful observer than the rest — took the trouble 
to introduce one of his fingers into the perforation,^ and 
thereby discovered that the circumference was ringed 
round by hardened tissue. But the doctor did not 
perceive the significance of' his own observations. To- 
day it is recognized as an indication oi prolonged inflam- 

The professional evidence for and against the asserted 
traces of poison, and the probable cause and nature of 
the artist's sufferings and death, assuming both to have 
been natural, can be discussed adequately only in the 

' "lo intromessi il dito aaricolare della mano destra e toccai la circon- 
ferenza di detto foro osservando come qualche poco incallita." 


pages of a medical journal, and were actually discussed 
in the Bulletino delle Scienze Mediche di Bologna, in 
May, 1898. Suffice it to say here that competent 
medical authorities have asserted that Elisabetta's 
symptoms — the pain felt more or less for a long period, 
its intensity after eating, the patient's changed appear- 
ance, pallor, and emaciation, the acute symptoms of 
27 August, the difficulty of lying down — and all the 
post-mortem appearances, notably the position of the 
perforation in the stomach and the ring of hardened 
tissue surrounding it, are all consonant with the diag- 
nosis of ulcer in the stomach, causing sudden perfora- 
tion and consequent peritonitis. On the other hand, 
experts have declared that a dose of corrosive poison 
powerful enough to produce perforation could not have 
taken twelve days (from 15 to 27 August) to accom- 
plish its work ; while small doses repeated over a long 
period would not have produced a lesion at a single 

It is noteworthy that Dr. Matessilani, one hundred 
and seventy years before this disease was recognized, 
expressed a belief that generated poison had caused 
" an ulcerous inflammation.'' 


Work of his hand 
He nor commends nor grieves ; 
Pleads for itself the fact ; 
As unrepenting Natiire leaves 
Her every act. 

THE statement graven above the portal of the 
house in the Via Urbana is repeated ad nauseam 
in every guide-book to Bologna and every history of 
Bolognese Art. Elisabetta Sirani is universally pro- 
claimed the "Emulatrice del Sommo Guido Reni."^ 

In accepting this statement we need to remind our- 
selves of three facts : — 

(i) That in the opinion of her contemporaries and of 
art critics and art lovers for two successive centuries it 
was regarded as a very high praise. 

' The English traveller, John Evelyn, echoed this judgment, but, it 
would seem, in merely a parrot-like fashion. In the midst of his de- 
scription of Bologna we find this phrase : "This Citie is full of rare pieces 
especially of Guido, Domenichino, and a Virgin named Isabetta Sirani, now 
living, who has painted many excellent pieces, and imitates Guido so well 
that many skilful artists have been deceived." Now when Evelyn visited 
Bologna in the year 1645, Elisabetta, or Isabetta as she is sometimes 
called, was only seven years old. One cannot avoid the conclusion that 
the worthy gentleman improved his diary with the accounts of later 
travellers, without realizing the shortness of Elisabetta's life. He thought 
she was painting in 1645, and imagined he remembered her work. 
Probably he confused it with that of her father. 



(2) That it is true, but not the whole truth. 

(3) That we of the twentieth century, in considering 
the work of the seventeenth, are almost certain to err 
on the side of condemnation. 

The books which recorded the impressions or guided 
the steps and opinions of early Victorian or eighteenth- 
century travellers give us the measure of the change 
which has taken place in the attitude of the cultured 
public towards the Eclectic school. What is now 
reprobated as a baneful form of decadence was once 
hailed as a second and glorious renaissance. We wor- 
ship what our grandfathers and great-grandfathers 
burned ; we burn what they adored. We go to Bo- 
logna to see Francia. Mrs. Stark's celebrated guide- 
book did not even mention him. We delight in the 
lovely colouring of Lippo di Dalmasio. Mr. Eustace 
and his contemporaries waxed eloquent and senti- 
mental over the great canvases of the Carracci and 
their followers. 

Of all those followers Guido Reni was the most 
fervidly, fulsomely, and deservedly belauded. No 
master has ever been overrated to a greater degree or 
for a longer period than the painter of the Ecce Homo. 
He alone among the Eclectics retains a portion of his 
sometime popularity. Among painters who, in the 
felicitous phrase of a French critic, were "peintres beaux- 
esprits au lieu de peintres inspires," he was undoubtedly 
relatively great ; but his very superiority was injurious 
to the welfare of Art, in that it gave rise, to quote again 
from M. Henri Delaborde, to " the regrettable successes 
of mediocrity." It is comparatively easy to imitate a 


painter whose virtues are chiefly technical, and whose 
sentiment is superficial. And whereas in the Golden 
Age of painting discipleship meant the assimilation of 
what was best in the master for the nourishment of 
original gifts, in the Bronze Age it meant merely the 
perpetuation of a manner. Guido's manner was copied 
with extraordinary success by artists of inferior ability; 
and among these imitators none was more successful, 
or less inferior, than the young daughter of Giovanni 
Andrea Sirani. 

She was, we have already seen, his pupil only in- 
directly. But just as in natural relationship, charac- 
teristics of mind and body are often seen to skip a 
generation, so in this artistic kinship Elisabetta re- 
sembled the master whom she never knew more nearly 
than did her father who had been Guido's favourite 
pupil. She caught with singular exactness the charac- 
teristics of his " second manner," his mild dignity, his 
inept serenity, his plaster-like flesh-tints, his gentle 
diffused light. But for good and evil, in expression as 
in range of subjects, she is far more limited. She never 
rises to Guido's heights nor sinks to his depths. Her 
sweetness is less cloying, her artificiality less obvious. 
She has no conception of deep grief or stormy passion, 
but she indulges in no theatrical horrors. She has no 
keen sense of beauty ; her men and women are pleas- 
ing, comely, graceful, not supremely lovely ; they are 
commonplace and plain, not ugly and repulsive. She 
never could have painted the radiant Aurora of the 
Rospigliosi Palace in Rome, nor the thorn-crowned Man 
of Sorrows of the Bolognese Gallery. She never would 
have painted the vulgar Samson drinking from the jaw- 


bone, nor the Slaughter of the Innocents, with its stage 
terror and its absence of natural grief. Her work is far 
from being weak, but there is a constant negative 
quality about it which makes it somewhat unsatisfying. 
To describe it justly one must employ comparatives 
rather than superlatives. Before beginning to examine 
it in detail let us again remind ourselves that we shall 
be disposed to underrate it. Owing to many different 
causes, which cannot be discussed here — which in part 
defy analysis and elude classification, — we are nowadays 
far more in sympathy with the spirit of the thirteenth 
and fourteenth centuries than with that of the seven- 
teenth and the eighteenth. 

Not the art alone, but the music, literature, archi- 
tecture, oratory, religion, and social life of the Seicento 
are distasteful and incomprehensible to the men and 
women, more especially the English men and women, 
of the twentieth century. The theatrical scenes of the 
Bolognese masters are antipathetic to a generation to 
whom the work of the early Florentine and Sienese 
schools makes peculiar and intimate appeal. We 
cannot feel the precise thrill, the particular quality of 
emotion which the tearful Madonnas of Guercino and the 
suffering Christs of Guido Reni awakened in contem- 
poraries. We are at home in the severe and spacious 
churches of the friars, and strangers in the decorated 
barocco temples of the Society of Jesus. We are 
interested in the early history of Minorites and Domini- 
cans, and comparatively indifferent to the schemes and 
struggles of Ignatius Loyala. We can understand the 
fervour of the Crusades, not that of the Catholic re- 
action. S. Francesco and S. Chiara are our friends, 


S. Filippo Neri and S. Teresa are hardly acquaintances. 
We read the Little Flowers, but not the once popular 
Flaming Heart or Life of St. Theresa. For one modern 
Englishman who knows the sometime belauded poets, 
Achillini and Marini, for five who have glanced 
through Metastasio, there are fifty who study Dante 
with pious regularity. 

In justice to the Eclectics we must admit : — 

First, that they were more truly artistic than their 
creed. The very reason of our distaste for their work is 
that it embodies and expresses the Zeitgeist of an age 
with which we are out of sympathy. Borrowers and im- 
itators by profession, they thoroughly fused and welded 
their material in the fire of barocco sentiment. Secondly, 
that in giving us the quintessence of the time they 
give it rectified and refined. The art of the Seicento was 
less degraded than its society or its religion, less bom- 
bastic than its rhetoric, less monstrously artificial than 
its poetry. Guido Reni and Guercino, Domenichino and 
Tiarini, Giovanni Andrea Sirani and his gifted daughter 
were influences for good and not for evil. They show 
us the best and noblest aspect of an age of decadence, 
an age devoid of true dignity and destitute of great 

The natural starting-point for any study of Elisabetta 
Sirani's work is the " Baptism of Christ" on the left wall 
of the first chapel to the left from the entrance door of 
the church of the Campo Santo in Bologna. It is, as 
she records with naive satisfaction in her catalogue, " un 
quadro grandissimo"; and it was her first important 

Malvasia gives us a pretty little account of the arrival 


of this commission and of the young artist's joy at re- 
ceiving it. The good Canon, according to his frequent 
custom, was paying an evening visit to the invalid 
Giovanni Andrea. There was a knock at the door, a 
man's step upon the stairs, and one Gozzini was ushered 
into the upstairs-room where the sick painter lived and 
taught. He came from the Fathers of the Certosa, for 
whom some four or five years earlier Giovanni Andrea 
Sirani had painted a large picture representing the 
Supper in the house of the Pharisee. They now desired 
a companion picture for the opposite wall of the chapel ; 
and this time the commission was given not to the father 
but to the daughter. Elisabetta was still in her teens, 
and on learning Gozzini's errand she jumped for joy. 
Withdrawing to a corner of the room with a sheet of 
white paper, some water-colour, and a camel-hair pencil, 
she then and there sketched in the whole composition. 
It was finished before her elders had concluded their 
evehing chat, and was her only study for a large and 
important work. 

Malvasia further tells us that she subsequently pre-^ 
sented him with the sketch, and that it was thoroughly 
typical of her mode of composition. Her invention and 
execution were extraordinarily quick. She conceived her 
subject at once and conceived it whole ; and, as a rule, / 
after a few rough pencil lines she drew it with water- 
colour and brush on white paper, putting in light and 
shade at the same time — " the method," says the admir- 
ing Canon, " of the greatest masters," and one to which 
her father never aspired. Several examples of this 
method of sketching may be seen in the collection of 
Elisabetta's drawings in the Galleria degli Uffizi in 


Florence, where they are shown on application to the 
Signore Ispettore. For the sake of Elisabetta's repu- 
tation it is unfortunate that this collection is almost un- 
known to the public. For a painter's finished work 
never seems to proclaim his true rank, or to bring us 
quite so close to him as do his first studies and rough 
sketches. In them his capacity lies, so to speak, un- 
covered before us ; undistracted by colour and ornament 
we measure his naked strength and weakness. Now 
Elisabetta's studies are certainly in " the fnanner of the 
greatest masters." They possess precisely the qualities 
in which women's work is most frequently deficient — 
qualities notably lacking in the drawings of her Bolog- 
nese predecessor, Lavinia Fontana. They are easy, 
dexterous, spirited, unhesitating, self-confident — the 
work of one thoroughly mistress of herself and of the 
technical side of her art. 

But to return to the young artist's first important 
picture, the Baptism in the church of the Certosa. It 
hangs in a bad light and is not easy to see in detail, 
still less easy to photograph. It is not a beautiful or a 
pleasing picture; but it is astonishingly powerful and 
bold — one might almost say audacious, when one 
remembers that it is the work of a girl under twenty. 
From clouds of glory in the centre of the sky, emerges 
the figure of God the Father with right hand uplifted 
in blessing. On either side are angels, — rather solid 
feminine shapes with floating draperies. From below 
the clouds the Dove descends upon the Son of God, who 
kneels on a rock in the shallow river. The Precursor 
in red drapery stands with hand uplifted above the 
Saviour's head — the pose of hand and arm are un- 





^ ^ 







^ \ik 

■ ^Pi^^ 




r - 




fortunate.^ The stream in which the feet of the Christ 
and the Baptist are half inbimersed is flat, unwatery, 

To right and left of the two central figures are groups 
of spectators, presumably the Baptist's audience. They 
appear to be much interested in one another, unob- 
servant of the baptism, and ignorant of any celestial 
manifestations. In the middle distance some one is hang- 
ing towels to dry on the branches of a tree, while notice- 
able in the foreground is the vigorous lifelike figure of 
a woman in a yellow turban suckling a child. In the 
opposite corner of the picture, a seated youth, with 
devout and joyful countenance, looks up into the face 
of a brawny half-naked old man who stands beside him. 
The painter seems to indicate that these are newly- 
baptized persons, who have just come up out of the 
stream. The youth is putting on his hose — an action 
exceedingly interesting to the student of costume. One 
stocking lies on the ground beside him — he is drawing 
on the other ; they are of coarse grey material, are 
attached by red ties, and are toeless. 

There is a figure yet more interesting than this 
handsome youth performing his toilet. Behind him, on 
the same side of the picture, in close attendance on Our 
Lord, are two " Santine," — young girls, chattering to- 
gether in girlish fashion. One in blue has towels or 
garments folded over her arm ; one in pink, looking 
upwards, raises a hand emphatically to enforce the 
words pouring from her lips. Now in this pretty, curly- 
headed, animated, and very human " little saint," Elisa- 

' Slightly suggesting the offer of a perch for the Dove who hovers 


betta, as she herself tells us, gave her own portrait to 
the Fathers of the Certosa. 

It is difficult to perceive much resemblance between 
this slim fair-haired child and the buxom comely young 
woman who looks out at us from the little picture in the 
smallest room of the Bolognese Gallery (9503). This 
little picture has always been described as an "auto- 
ritratto," and expert opinion agrees with the tradition. 
Elisabetta's latest biographer, Signor Manaresi, is, how- 
ever, inclined to ascribe it to Barbara Sirani, since 
Barbara is known to have painted her sister's portrait 
not long before the latter's tragic death ; and he argues, 
with much plausibility, that the younger sister's tech- 
nique might well be undistinguishable from that of the 
elder, under whom, and with whom, she worked. 

Whoever was the artist, one feels instinctively that 
the likeness is a good one. Elisabetta stands, a palette 
in her left hand, a brush in her right, in the act of 
painting. She wears a tight-fitting blue velvet bodice, 
with fine, lace-trimmed, white fawn chemisette. Gems 
fasten the bodice, and loop a drapery round the arm- 
holes. There is a string of pearls at her throat. Her 
hair is drawn back tightly save for a few flat curls upon 
the forehead and falls in ringlets on each side of her 
face, after the fashion of seventeenth-century coiffures 
alike in England and on the Continent. 

At Castelguelfo there is yet a third portrait of Elisa- 
betta occupying a middle position in time between the 
" Santina " of the Certosa and the little picture of the 
Pinacoteca. Again we see the artist in the act of 
painting. This picture has long been in the Hercolani 




collection. Oretti, however, mentions it as being in 
" Casa Oretti," and says that it is not by her own hand. 
There is a tradition, recorded even by the official 
catalogue, that the head of a nun — a small canvas in 
the second corridor of the Bologna Pinacoteca — is an 
" auto-ritratto." If this be the case, it must have been 
taken during the last months of the painter's life, and 
would corroborate the testimony of Aunt Giacoma as 
to her niece's altered looks. It is difficult to trace any 
resemblance between the mournful nun and the fair, 
plump, cheerful young woman of the little portrait in 
Camera G. 

This little room in the Pinacoteca contains seven 
small pictures by Elisabetta Sirani. Most noticeable 
among them are the Virgine Addolorata and the Bam- 
bino Gesii sul Hondo, which have a certain poetic beauty 
and suggestiveness possessed by none of her large 

In one of his wonderful Dreams Jean Paul Richter 
describes the vast ocean of life through which suns and 
planets float as motes in light. Brain and senses are 
reeling before the contemplation of the universe when 
he sees sailing towards him through galaxies of stars a 
dark globe. And on the globe stands a child. And 
the child turns on him a look so bright and loving that 
he wakes for very joy. 

EHsabetta's Bambino Gesii sul Hondo might serve as 
an illustration for the Dream of the German tran- 
scendentalist. The perfectly infantile features of her 
Christ-Child are touched with subtle majesty. His little 
hand is uplifted with authority to bless. "The olive- 


branch in his left hand is the sceptre of the Prince of 
Peace. He stands on the globe of the world, its pilot 
through vast misty space, and the clouds behind the 
infant head are touched with brightness and glow into 
an aureole. The scheme of colour is delicate and 
characteristic. A floating scarf of dull pinkish mauve 
connects the flesh tints with the blue streaks in the sky. 
This little picture (it is 38 by 27 centimetres) was 
painted, like her earlier " quadro grandissimo," for the 
Fathers of the Certosa. 

Beside it, even smaller in size, and on copper instead 
of canvas, hangs the Virgine Addolorata. The sorrowing 
Mother, in under-dress of dull carnation and deep blue 
draperies, sits holding on her knees the crown of thorns. 
Her attitude expresses sorrowful contemplation and 
restrained grief In the background, to the left of the 
Virgin Mother, rises the cross. Two angels embrace its 
arms ; a third with clasped hands stands at its foot 
gazing upwards, as though he mystically beheld its divine 
burden ; a fourth kneels weeping in the foreground 
beside the instruments of the passion. 

Elisabetta was only nineteen when she painted this 
really beautiful and poetic little picture. To its entry 
in her catalogue is added the note : " E 1' intagliai anco 
in rame"; and this engraving is mentioned by Adam 
Bartsch with unstinted admiration. The order for the 
picture came from a certain Padre Ettore Ghisilieri, of 
the church of the Madonna di Galliera ; and the oratory 
of the church was its first home. Four of Elisabetta's 
pictures still hang there ; all were ordered by the same 
priest. One of them, a "Conception," painted in the 
last year of her life, is a very graceful little picture on 


copper. Its composition reminds one of her father's 
treatment of the same subject in the canvas numbered 
176, Corridor 2, of the Pinacoteca. The Virgin stands 
on a white crescent moon which rests upon the head of 
a greenish serpent with curled tongue and feline ex- 
pression, who lies coiled on the terrestrial globe. Angels, 
holding white lilies, hover in the clouds. The stars of 
heaven have come together to form a faint, crown-like 
nimbus round the Virgin's head. Her brown hair falls 
smoothly parted round her sweet oval face : her beauti- 
ful hands are crossed submissively upon her breast : she 
is the willing handmaid of the Lord. 

A larger picture, removed like the Virgine Addolo- 
rata from the Madonna di Galliera to the walls of the 
Pinacoteca, represents the vision of S. Filippo Neri. 
The Saint, vested for Mass, kneels near an altar ; in 
front of him stands the Virgin, tendering her child for 
his adorg4:ion. Elisabetta's catalogue describes the pic- 
ture as an altar-piece, and states that the order came 
from the Signore Fabri Dottore. This was probably the 
physician who maintained the theory of " administered 
poison " in the trial of Lucia Tolomelli, and whose 
evidence was remarkable for its superior accuracy and 

Two other pictures by Elisabetta hang in Corridor 2 
close to the S. Filippo Neri. 

Number 176 is the Madonna of the Rosary. The 
Virgin's face — very sweet and framed in light brown hair 
— ^her attitude, the background of spacious sky, the 
starry nimbus, recall the little Concezione in the church 
of the Galliera, — with the difference of a total change 
of expression. The Virgin of the Rosary is the Queen 


of Heaven, standing, a sceptre in her right hand and the 
Divine Child on her left arm, to receive the homage of 
the World. 

In his right hand, which rests against his mother's 
heart, the Infant Christ is holding a crimson rose; in his 
left he extends a rosary of pearls. There is no aureole 
round his head, no dignity in the sweet but inexpressive 
little face. He is a pretty earthly child playing a quiet 
game with a string of beads. His feet are ugly and 
coarse. His robe is of the peculiar pinkish purple of 
pastel consistency which Elisabetta much affected, 
especially in her later work. The Virgin's draperies are 
hard and smooth. The picture is low in tone, and would 
gain in effect were it in a less obtrusive frame. 

A little further off is a Holy Family (No. 6i6), which 
in colouring and conception differs somewhat from 
Elisabetta's usual and most characteristic work. The 
Virgin is a handsome contadina ; her shapely head is 
turbaned by a gay striped scarf: her robe is a deep 
pure red : the sky is a deep blue. Her Child sits in 
front of her on a cushion placed on a wall : he bends 
forward to see the Dove held up to him by a curly- 
headed St. John. 

No entry corresponding to this canvas appears in 
Elisabetta's catalogue ; but it is probably indirectly 
referred to in her mention of " a Blessed Virgin on 
copper, with the Infant Christ and St. John, who 
holds a bird in his hands which the former desires and 
asks for " ; for she adds : " This was copied from a 
larger pictured 

Another Holy Family (No. 178, Room G) likewise 
displays a richness, warmth, and purity of colour un- 


usual in her work. It is a pleasing composition. A 
looped-back curtain, disclosing a loggia, through the 
arches of which we get a distant glimpse of sky, gives a 
sense of restfulness and space. S. Joseph reads peace- 
fully in the background. The Bambino sleeps in the 
Virgin's lap. Her red bodice and deep blue cloak, the 
white and gold scarf covering her head, a copper pot 
with red flowers in the loggia behind her, are bright 
warm bits of colour. 

The most important picture by Elisabetta in the 
Bolognese Gallery is fitly hung in the Sala di Guido, in 
juxtaposition to the works of the master whose style it 
so closely approaches. But in none of Guido's pictures 
in Bologna or elsewhere do we find the pretty, fresh, 
Greuze-like children in whom Elisabetta delighted. 
Here the cell of the monk, Anthony of Padua, is filled 
with lovely human children who have entered in the thin 
disguise of heavenly visitants. Chubby cherubs, with 
wings about their little ears, are playing peep-bo over 
substantial clouds ; a little angel, with more developed 
wings, is saying its prayers with sweet, childish solemnity; 
and a pretty ragazza, with untidy hair, appears on the 
right of the picture. The Bambino himself, in spite of 
the little floating cloud on which he sits, is simply an 
English baby, fair, rosy, dimpled, smiling, almost mis- 
chievous. The Saint, young, gentle, and effeminate, is 
no ascetic dreamer, bowing in rapt devotion before 
a celestial apparition, but a lover of children, bending 
tenderly forward to fondle the beautiful little foot of an 
engaging infant. 

The picture, in spite of its graceful composition, 


pleasing colour, and technical virtues — note, for example, 
the finely-painted hands of the Saint — is curiously 
commonplace and unsatisfactory. In a room we should 
quickly weary of it. On the walls of a church it would 
not inspire devotion. For a church it was painted, i.e. 
for S. Leonardo in the Via S. Vitale, a new building in 
Elisabetta's day. It would be interesting to know when 
the cult of S. Anthony of Padua reacquired popularity 
in Bologna ; for Fra Salimbene writing at the end of 
the thirteenth century tells us that their defeat by the 
people of Faenza, on the feast of S. Anthony, in the 
year 1275, rankled so terribly in the memory of the 
Bolognese, that they would not even have him named 
within their city — "nolunt ipsum audire in Bononia 

Two other pictures by Elisabetta hang in the Sala di 
Guido, — a Magdalene and a S. Jerome, both painted in 
1660 for one "Signore Giovanni Battista Cremonese, 
a jeweller." They are both " skied," and in a bad light. 
S. Jerome is very busy with literary work ; he is mend- 
ing a pen, and using the head of his mild lion as a 
book-rest. The Magdalene lies on a rough mat, con- 

' Elisabetta's Vision of S. Anthmiy was probably painted in 1662. 
In that year she painted, according to her catalogue, an almost incredible 
number of pictures, while none are assigned to the year 1663. Signer 
Manaresi conjectured that the artist had forgotten to enter the date of the 
new year, and had run the work of 1662 without a division into that of 
1663. He subsequently discovered in the archives of the Leopardi family 
a confirmation of this supposition ; a letter from Giovanni Andrea Sirani, 
dated March p, 1663, alludes to two pictures — lolus and Hercules spin- 
ning — as just finished and sent off. These two pictures are entered under 
the heading 1662. 


templating a crucifix ; one hand rests on a skull, and is 
very finely drawn. 

Works from Elisabetta's facile and industrious brush, 
purchased by the distinguished strangers who went to 
see her paint, are scattered throughout Europe ; but, 
seeing that in Italy alone her fame is yet green, that the 
Bolognese Gallery contains thoroughly typical, specimens 
of her work, and that pictures in private collections are 
often difficult to trace and sometimes difficult to see, it 
seems Sufficient to indicate here those which are publicly 
exhibited in her native city. 

Furthermore, there are three pictures placed in promi- 
nent positions in Roman galleries which are easily seen, 
and are worth seeing. One, numbered 90, in Room 6 
of the Borghese Gallery, is invariably called Lucretia. 
No picture is thus named in Elisabetta's own catalogue ; 
and though, as we have already seen, that catalogue is not 
exhaustive, it is noteworthy that it does describe a com- 
position which appears to correspond with the so-called 
Borghese Lucretia, to wit : " Una Porzia in atta di 
ferirsi una coscia quando desiderava saper la congiura 
che tramava I'll marito." (A Portia in the act of wound- 
ing herself in the thigh when she desired to know of the 
plot her husband was hatching.) The expression of 
the nude figure gazing upwards with sentimental tran- 
quillity is certainly more appropriate to a happy 
woman about to do herself a trifling injury for her 
own fanciful satisfaction, than to an outraged wife 
preparing to commit suicide to save her honour and 
her husband's life. 


In the first room in the Pinacoteca of the Capitol, 
facing the statue of Benedict XIV, is a bold picture, 
representing a soldier, wearing a helmet with nodding 
scarlet and white plumes, and a crimson mantle, taking 
leave of a golden-haired lady in purple and gold, reclin- 
ing on a throne-like crimson dais, shadowed by purple 
curtains. Elisabetta has placed a delicate, stemmed 
glass in the lady's left hand, and called the picture Circe 
and Ulysses. By any other name it would please us 
better ; for the anachronisms of the pseudo-classical 
painters of the seventeenth century are irritating, 
though those of earlier and more child-like workers are 
touching and endearing. This richly coloured Circe 
and Ulysses is in Guide's first, rather than his second, 

More pleasing and characteristic is the Amorino, in 
the room which contains Guercino's enormous and re- 
pulsive S. Petronilla. The winged boy sits on a car- 
mine cushion, placed on the stone steps of an Italian 
garden. Above him is a bush of pink roses in full 
bloom. He holds a spray of roses in his dimpled left 
hand, and stretches out the right to gather more. A 
dull purple curtain falls behind him, looped back in 
Elisabetta's favourite manner to show a glimpse of 
distant landscape. 

Though singularly successful as an etcher, Elisabetta 
seems to have cared little for this delightful form of art, 
and to have abandoned it entirely for painting after 
her first youth. She was only nineteen when she en- 
graved on copper the Virgine Addolorata, of which the 
painted replica is in the Bolognese Gallery; and only 



seventeen when she executed the S. Eustachio, pro- 
nounced by Adam Bartsch to be one of the finest known 
specimens of this kind of work. 

The attitude of the suddenly converted hunter, who 
kneels in amazement and devotion before the miraculous 
stag, is exceedingly fine and expressive, and conveys no 
hint of immaturity of conception, or of the indecision of 
a prentice hand. The sylvan surroundings — thicket, 
rocks, and streams — are suggested with spirit and reality, 
and without excessive detail, while the background of 
breeze and space are admirable. There is little in 
Elisabetta's etching to distinguish S. Eustace from 
S. Hubert, about whom a similar legend is related. 
The short tunic and cloak belong as much to medieval 
times as to the days of Trajan. 

The blot on this otherwise super-excellent composi- 
tion is the horse, whose body is happily concealed by 
a bush, but whose face peeps over it with a comic 
expression of pained astonishment. We might almost 
fancy that the strange animal was merely emblematical, 
and that the head emerging from the brushwood was 
that of the brazen bull in which S. Eustace is said to 
have been enclosed and roasted. 

The skill in line-drawing shown in this admirable 
etching is visible even in the slightest of the studies 
which are preserved in the Ufifizi Gallery. Nothing 
perhaps so really reveals the capacity of an artist as his 
sketch-book, and this collection, which may be seen on 
application to Ispettore Ferri, deserves to be visited by 
all who are interested in the work of the unfortunate, 
highly gifted Bolognese artist. We give a list of these 


monochrome studies, with their numbers in the official 

1. 1664. The Angel of the Annunciation, holding a lily in 

the right hand. Swift motion cleverly indicated. 
Pen and ink ; coarse lines. 

2. 1665. The Virgin sitting on the ground (described in 

catalogue simply as "figura muliebre") with the 
Holy Child leaning against her, his arms upraised 
so as to shape a cross. An interesting sketch. 
Pen and ink, on white paper. 

3. 1666. Virgin and Child with youthful Baptist. The 

figures commonplace and rather ugly. Pen and 
ink, on white paper. 

4. 1667. Sylvan scene. Before a rough tent supported by 

a tree trunk are two women ; one holds a ram ; a 
child is on the ground at her feet. Large drawing 
in pen and ink. On the left margin a fly is care- 
fully drawn. 

5. 4192. Kneeling figure with pretty child. Pencil, on 

greenish paper ; high lights in body colour. 

6. 4193. Child holding up a curtain. A very slight sketch. 

Black pencil. 

7. 4194. Figure of Comedy. Brush, on white paper, in 


8. 4195. The famous caricature of the old man in the long 

cloak, supposed to be Elisabetta's poisoner. Pen 
and ink, on white paper. 

9. 4196. Virgin kneeling with Infant Christ. Signed. 

Brush, on white paper, in bistre. 
10. 4197. A cupid sitting by a table, on which are a dish 
and flagon. Brush, in bistre; a few rough lines 
in red chalk. 


11. 4198. Holy Family. A large and very slight sketch. 

Pen and bistre, on brownish paper. 

12. 4199. Holy Family. A very small sketch in black 

pencil, with slight water-colour wash. 

13. 4200. Magdalen with skull in her right hand, standing 

with left hand raised. Outlined with a pen; shading 
with brush and bistre wash. 

14. 4201. Virgin and Child. Pretty and graceful. In red 


15. 4202. Holy Family. The Infant Christ plays with the 

Baptist : the Virgin kneels, holding her hands 
over them. Very rough sketch in red pencil. 

16. 4203. Magdalen divesting herself of her worldly adorn- 

ments. A large half-figure. Three cherubs appear 
in the clouds to the right. To the left a little 
angel holds a basket of flowers and fruit, and 
points to the skies. A very characteristic sketch. 
Pen and black mk, with indigo wash, on white 

1 7. 4204. Half-length figure of an old man wearing spectacles, 

with a strong, humorous, kindly countenance. Full 
of vigour and spirit. Probably a portrait. Red 

18. 4205. A caricature : two friars. Red pencil. 

19. 4206. A graceful female figure standing. Red pencil. 

20. 6299. Youthful head, three-quarter face, turned right. 

Signed. Coloured pencils, on white paper. 

21. 6300. Shown under glass in the corridor with work of 

Bolognese school. Beheading of S. John the 
Baptist. The executioner is in the act of placing 
the head in a basin held by a child. A few black 
pencil lines and water-colour wash, on white paper. 


22. 6301. The Scourging of Christ. A very rough and very 

vigorous sketch of doubtful authenticity. On it 
is written : " Lascia stare questo disegno per che e 
buono." Pencil, pen, and brown ink and brown 
wash, on white paper. 

23. 6302. A man lying on a bed near which stand two 

women. Black pencil and bistre wash, on white 

24. 6303. The rape of Deianira. A beautiful spirited drawing 

in red chalk, oii yellowish paper. 

25. 6304. Catalogued as " Three studies for half-length figure 

of a Christ." The first holds a cross, the second 
a globe, the third a book. Possibly symbolical of 
the Three Persons of the Trinity. Black pencil 
and bistre wash, on white paper. 


Malvasia. Felsina Pittrice. 

MiNGHETTi. Le Donne Italians nelle Belle Arti. Firenze, 

PiciNARDi. II Pennello Lacrimato. Bologna, 1665. 

PiciNARDi. la Poesia Muta. Bologna, 1666. 

Processo per il creduto venefido di Elisabetta Sirani. 1665-6. 
MS. Archivio di Stato, Bologna. 

Oretti. Pittori. MS. Gozzadini, 122. Archigninasio, 

Vaccolini. Biografia di Elisabetta Sirani. Roma, 1844. 

BiANCHiNi. Prove Legali dell' Avvelenamento delta Celebre 
Pittrice Bobgnese Elisabetta Sirani. Bologna, 1666. 

Carolina Bonafede. Cenni Biografici e Ritratti di Insigne 
Donne Bolognese. Bologna, 1845. 

GuALANDi. Memoria su Elisabetta Sirani. Indicatore 
Modenese, anno II, num. 50. 

Mazzoni Toselli. Di Elisabetta Sirani, e del Supposto 
Venefido. Bologna, 1833. 

Antonio Manaresi. Elisabetta Sirani. Bologna, 1898. 

Antonio Manaresi. Processo di Avvelenamento. Bologna, 

CoRRADO Ricci. Vita Barocca. Bologna. 
LoDOVico Frati. Vita Privata di Bologna, dal secolo xiii. 
al xvii. Bologna, 1900. 



Rivesta di Firenzo. 1858. Article by Jacopo Cavallucci. 

SiEUR Pierre Pomet. Histoire Ginirale des Drogues. 
Paris, 1699. 

Farmacopea Universale. Venice, 1720. 

Bartolomea Maranta. Treatise on Triaca. Naples, 1570 



(Archiv. della R. Galleria di Firenze. Cod. ix, Inserto 15.) 

" Per servire alia richiesta che mi fa la S. V. lUustrissima con 
la sua lettera gli participio quelle che s'e osservato nell' apertura 
del cadavero della signora Elisabetta Sirana, che sabbato 
mattina, 29 del caduto, fu considerate; il quale, prima 
d'aprirlo, si vide tutto gonfio, con la faccia tanto deformata che 
piti non si conosceva, ed il ventre intumidito come un otre 
pieno di vento, che al primo taglio sbocc6 un flato cosi fetente, 
che necessitb gli circostanti a ritirarsi per qualche tempo. 
Dipoi, col taglio in croce fatto luogo per osservar gli visceri, si 
vide la rete lacerata in pezzi, parte sparsa sopra gli intestini, 
parte mescolata con un seriosita gialla e torbida, nella quale 
s' immergevano le budelle, le quali, nella tunica estema, come 
anco il peritoneo, erano abrasi et iniiammati ; e perche la ditta 
seriosita scaturiva con abondanza, fatto diligenza di dove 
venisse, si ritrov6 da un foro fatto da un lato della bocca 
inleriore dello stomacho, che nella parte di dentro d' intorno 
aveva 1' escara, come se fosse stato fatto da un grano di fuoco 
morto, ed era di grandezza quanto una piccola palla di 
schizzettb, senza che d' altra parte la tunica interna del ventri- 
colo fosse offesa in alcuna parti, fuorche un poco distante dal 
detto forame, dove si vedevano ave macchiette rosse e minute 
come punti o morsi di pulci. Nella parte di dentro alle budelle 
non sfe osservata veruna alterazione, ma solo nella parte esterna 
la ridetta abrasione cagionata da quella seriosita che similmente 
aveva roso le tuniche di tutti gli altri visceri di questo ventro 





Number in 

Catalogue. Room 

178. Holy Family, from Certosa G 

179. The Infant Christ on the Globe . . . . G 

180. Our Lady of Sorrows, from S. Maria de Galliera . G 

280. Mary Magdalene ....... G 

503. Portrait of herself G 

554. Virgin in Prayer, from Zambeccari Gallery . . G 

561. The Saviour in the act of blessing, from Zambeccari 

Gallery G 


379. Portrait of a nun, a fragment : said to be herself . 2 

177. Appearance of the Blessed Virgin and Child to 

S. Filippo Neri, from S. Maria di Galliera . . 2 

176. Madonna of the Rosary, from S. Maria Nuovo . 2 

616. Madonna and Child with the Dove, from Zambeccari 

Gallery 2 


565. S. Jerome in the Desert, from Zambeccari Gallery . A 

750. The Magdalene in the Desert, from Zambeccari 

Gallery A 

175. The Vision of S. Anthony of Padua, from the 

Monastery of S. Leonardo A 



Accursius, i 

Achillini, 169, 232, 292 

Acquin, d', French physician, 280 

Ailisia, Sister, 47, 65 

Alfonso Arnoaldo, Canon, witness 
in Processo forCaterina deiVigri's 
canonization, 145 

Alidosi, Bolognese historian, 168 

Andromach, Nero's physician, 280 

Angelico, Fra, 151, 154 

Angelo, S., Bridge of, Rome, 212 

Angelo, Michael, 173, 245 

Anna Morandi, Abbess, 124 

Anthony, S., of Padua, 94, 301, 

Anthony, S., of Padua, Hostel of, 
in Bologna, 114 

Antonia, Sister, the half-sister of 
Caterina dei Vigri, 73 

Archiginnasio, Bologna, 183, 197 

Archivio of the convent of Corpus 
Domini, Bologna, 124 

Arsenius, S. , difference in tempera- 
ment between him and S. An- 
thony, 55 n. 

Ascoli, Cardinal, 206 

Aspertini Amico, painter, 179, 181, 

Assumption, Vigil of Feast of, 264 

Atonement, Feudal idea of, 80 

Augustinian rule, 46 

Augustinian habit, 156 

Austen, Jane, 241 

Bacon, Francis, 278, 280, 286 

Bandinelli, Baccio, 202 

Eartsch, Adam, 305 

Bellini, Gentile, 151 

Bembo family, 156. Sei Illuminata 

Bentivoglio, Annibale, 79 

Bentivoglio, Ginevra, 139 

Bentivoglio, Sante, 109 

Bernardina Sedazzi, 46, 48 

Bernardino, S., 36; his humour, 
36, 55 > attempts to lead a her- 
mit's life, 53, 54 ; his canoniz- 
ation, 74 

Bero, Count, his sonnet, 247 

Bessarion, Cardinal Legate, 103, 

Bezoar, 283 

Bianchini, Bolognese lawyer, 271 

Bianconi and Canuti, description 
of carving by Properzia de' Rossi, 

Bologna, birthplace of Caterina dei 
Vigri, 13 

Bologna : — 
Churches : 
Certosa (Campo Santo), 292, 294, 

296, 298 
S. Cristoforo delle Muratelle, 

104, 114 
S. Domenico, 229 sgg. 
S. Giacomo Maggiore, 209, 242 
S. Leonardo, 302 
8. Marici di Galliera, 298, 299 



Bologna (continued) : — 

Churches (continued) : 
S. Maria del Baraccano, 172, 174, 

S. Maria delta Fieta, 223 
S. Maria della Vita, 186 
S. Mammolo, 16, 227 
S. Petronio, 172 sqg. 
S. Pietro, 238 

Gates : 
S. Donato, 260 
Galliera, no 

Piazzas : 
Maggiore (now Vittorio Eman- 

uele), 198 
del Nettuno, o del Gigante, 198, 

deir Accademia (now Galvani), 


Palazzi : 
Archiginnasio (now Communal 

Library), 197 
Pubblico, 200, 205, 250, 251 
Poggi (now the University), 197 

Porticoes : 
Their possible origin, 1 7 
Dei Banchi, 198 
Delia Morte, 184, 198 ' 

Pavaglione, 197 

Streets : 
Clavatura, 183, 184, 186 
delle Casse, 179 
S. Donato (now Zamboni), 168 
Lamme, 179 
S. Lorenzo, 179 
Maggiore (now Mazzini), 168, 

184, 269 
Mammolo (now d'Azeglio), 16, 

Toschi, 19 
Urbana, 237, 260, 288, 315 

Bologna (continued) : — 
Giam, sculptor, 199 
Music in Bologna, 169, 240 
Scuole di Bologna, 16, 17, 197 
Senate of Bologna, 115, 205 
Students' life in Bologna, 15-19 

Bonafede, Carolina, 168, 177 

Borbone, Matteo, 231 

Borgias, 284 

Borromeo, Carlo, 197, Z04, 260 

" Bread of Obedience," 69 

Brunswick, Duchess of, her visit to 
the studio of Elisabetta Sirani, 

Buoncompagni. See Gregory XIII 

Calandrino, Cardinal, no 
Calcina Chapel, 221, 222, 242 
Callixtus III, Pope, 106 
Cantofoli, Ginevra, painter, pupil 

of Elisabetta Sirani, 242 
Canonization of S. Caterina, 137, 148 
Carafia, Cardinal Legate, 251, 267 
Carducci, i, 24, 132 
Carracci, Lodovico, 200, 201, 209 
Carracci, Annibale, 245 
Casarini, cousin of the Sirani's 

maid-servant, 260, 261, 264, 268 
Castelguelfo, 296 
Caterina, S., of Alexandria. In a 

picture by Lavinia Fontana, 222 
Caterina, S., of Alexandria, church 

of, at Ferrara, 157 
Caterina of Bologna, 3, 1-164, 243 
Caterina of Siena, 77 
Catholic reaction, 4, 291 
Cazzati, Maurizio, 231 
Cellini, Benvenuto, 283 
Certaldo, Paolo da, 30, 31 
Certosa. See Bologna 
" Chambre Ardente," 256 
Charles V, Emperor, 168, 185, 200 



Cino da Pistoia, 95 

Civic Patriotism, 234 

Clare, S., Rule of, 49, 50, 65, 72 

Clausura, Strict, 49 

Clement VII, Pope, 137, 186 

"Comforter" (Confortatore), office 

of, 188 
Constantinople, 79, 176 
Convent of Corpus Domini (in 

Bologna), 11, 114 
Convent of Corpus Domini (in 

Ferrara), 49, 73, 99, loi, 105 
Correggio, 245 
Cospi, Ferdinando, Marchese, 251, 

Creighton, Bishop, 182 
Cupid, Elisabetta Sirani's painting 

of, 247 

Dalmasio, Lippi, 157, 289 
Dante, 93, 250, 292 
Delaborde, Henri, 289 
Domenichino, 237, 288, 292 
Donnini, Anna Maria, charwoman 

to the Sirani, 262-70 
Donzelli, 257 

Doubts, Santa Caterina's, 84, 85 
Duccio, 151 
Dunstan, S., 129 

Eclectic school, 201, 244, 289 
"Elescoff," an electuary, 282 
Elisabetta Sirani, 6, 201, 203, 229- 

Elizabeth, Queen of England, 211 
Enzio, 250 

Este, d', Niccolo, 20, 22, 25 sqq. , 50 
Este, d', Leonello, son of Niccolo, 

27. 35 
Este, d', Margherita, " Principessa," 
daughter of Niccolo, 22, 23 sqq., 
50, 7S, 107 

Este, d', Ugo (Aldobrandini), son 

of Niccolo, 27 
Este, d', Isabella, 27, 35, 45 
Este, d', Beatrice, 35 
Este, d', Borso, 28, 135 
Eugenius IV, Pope, 72 
Eustace, English traveller, 289 
Evelyn, English traveller, 108, 288 

Fabri, Dr., 268, 272, 283, 286, 299 

Faenza, 250, 302 

Fantuzzi, Beato Fra Marco, 123 

Felsina, 234 

Ferrara, Court of, 24-45 

Ferrara, described by Carducci, 24 

Ferrara, described by Shorthouse, 

Ferrara, disputes with Bologna for 
possession of Santa Caterina, 13- 

Ferrara horse-races, 250 
Fiorentino Pietro, architect, 269/ 
Florence, 172, 201, 233 / 

Fontana. See Layinia and P^spero 
Fontana, Domenico, employed by 

Sixtus V, 211 
Fontana, Veronica, pupil of Elisa- 
betta Sirani, 242 , 
Forni, Lucretia, pupil of Elisabetta 

Sirani, 242 
Francesca, S. di Romana, 70 
Francesco, S. d' Assisi, 94, 115 
Francesco, S. di Paolo, 213, 214 
Franchi, Veronica, pupil of Elisa- 
betta Sirani, 242 
Francia, Francesco, 179, 289 
Francis I, King of France, 213 
Franciscan rule, 48 
Free-will, Santa Caterina's concep- 
tion of, 83, 84 

Galen, 272, 281 


Gallerati, Dr., 249, 253, 254, 257, 
262, 265, 268, 272, 279, 282, 283, 
Galleries : — 

Bologna, 155, 213, 215, 216, 248, 
290, 296, 297, 298, 299, 300, 
301, 302, 304 
Florence (UfEzi), 171, 193, 224, 


Milan (Brera), 242 

Rome (Borghese), 303 

Rome (Capitol), 304 

Venice, 155 
Ghislieri, Ettore, Count, 239 
Gigliola da Carrara, wife of Niccolo 

III, d' Este, 22 
Giovio, 184 

Gonfalonier of Justice, 234, 25 1 
Gonzaga, Eleonora, Empress, 252 
Gozzadini, family, 209, 217, 218, 

Gozzini, 293 
Grassetti, Padre, 15, 60, 106, 108, 

109, r6i 
Grassi, family, 171 
Gregory XIII, Pope, 184, 204, 210 
Grillo, Don Angelo, 210 
Grissante, architect, 198 
Gualandi, Michael Angelo, 168, 

178, 275 
Gualandi, Secretary, 257 
Guercino, 234, 291, 292, 304 
Guerino, 34 

Guido Reni. See Reni, Guido 
Guidotti, Saulo, senator, 229 
Guinicelli, Guido, 93 

Hospital (Ospedale della Morte), 
183, 184, 186, 189, 253, 266, 282 

Illuminata, Sister (Bembo), 14, 18, 
64, 67, 71, 119, 132, 141, 144, 
148, 156 

Ignatius Loyola, 291 
Imola, 20 

Imola, Innocenzo da, 195 
Innocent IX, Pope, 212 
Intercessions, S. Caterina's, 73-7, 
80, 81 

Japanese Ambassadors, 204 
Joseph, St., Bowl of, 70, 71 
Joseph and wife of Potiphar, bas- 
relief by Properzia, 175 
Julius III, Pope, 195 

Kingsley, Charles, on Monks of 
Thebaid, 42 

Lambertazzi, Bolognese family, 250 
Lanteri, Camilla, pupil of Elisa- 

betta Sirani, 242 
Laurence, St., 129 
Laureti, Tommaso, architect, 198 
Lavinia Fontana, 5, 6, 193-225, 

242, 246 
Lemery's Farmacopea Universale, 

Lemmi, Niccol6, 7 
Leonarda, Abbess, 102 
Leonello. See Este 
Leonora, Sister (Poggi), 144 
Leopardi, family, 302 
Life school, 239 
Liverati, painter, 275 
Lombardy, 245 

Louis XI, King of France, 213 
Louise de Savoie, Duchesse d'An- 

goul^me, 213 
Lucia, Sister (Codagnelli), 117, 1 18 
Lucia, Sister (Mascheroni), 46, 47, 

48, 65, 100, 156 
Lucia Tolomelli, 257-87, 299 
Ludovico, Master, barber of Spe- 

dale della Morte, 283 



Maddalena, Rosa, Sister, 126 
Maduzzi, Cristoforo, 204 
Malatesta, Sigismundo, 26 
Malatesta, Pandolfo, 40 
Malatesta, Parisina. See Parisina 
Milatesta Roberto. See Roberto 
Malvasia, Anton Galeazzo, 178, 

179, i8o 
Malvasia, Canon, 237, 241, 246, 

248, 272, 274, 284, 292, 293 
Mamolini, family, 19 
Manarese, Antonio, biographer of 

Elisabetta Sirani, 247, 256, 275, 

Mantegna, 233 
Mantua, loi, 233 
Marconi, i 
Marini, 291 
Martin V, Pope, 28 
Massero, 196 
Matessilani, Dr., 252, 266, 272, 

282, 286 
Medici, Leopoldo, Cardinal, 234, 

269, 274 
Mendicanti (Poor House), 260, 267, 

Metastasio, 292 
Mezzavacca, Battista, 103, 105 
Milano, Francesco da, 179 
Minghetti, Marco, 35 
Minimes (Reformed Franciscans), 

Miola, Vincenzo, painter, 179 
Miracles, S. Caterina's, 117-23 
Modena, horse-race at, 250 
Molins, Venetian family, 1 57 
Monari, Advocate of the Poor, 273 
Montpellier, 280 
Morina, Guido, 129 
Museo Civico (Bologna), 171 
Museo della Fabbrica (Bologna), 

173. 174 
Music. See Bologna 

Neri, S. Filippo, 292, 299 
Nicholas V, Pope, 1 10 

Office, Daily, in the choir, 88, 89 
Office of the Dead, 80 
"Oil of the Grand Duke," 283 
Ordelaffi, family of Forte, 102 
Oretti, 195, 199, 203, 217, 221, 
242, 273, 297 

Padua, 21 
Pagliardi, 259, 269 
Panzacchi, Maria, pupil of Elisa- 
betta Sirani, 242 
Paolo, S., Fuori delle Mura (Rome), 

Pareia, Bartolomeo, Professor of 

Music, 169 
Parisina, wife of Niccolo III, d' 

Este, 26, 130 
Parma, 20 

Pepoli, Caterina, 243 
Pepoli, Guido, 173 
Pepoli, Romeo, 18 
Pharmacy of S. Petronio, 282 
Pharmacy of S. Paolo, 282 
Pia de Carpi, Madonna Verde dei, 

Pia de Carpi, Abbess Taddea. See 

Picinardi, funeral oration of, 232-41, 

Pinzochere, 25 
Pius V, Pope, 203 
Plessis-le-Tours, 213 
Poisoning in seventeenth century, 

256, 284, 28s 
Pomet, Pierre, Paris druggist, 280 
Porchetta, Festival, 249, 251, 259 
Post-mortem examination, 253, 268, 

Poverty, S. Caterina's love of, 96-9 


Processo of Caterina's canonization, 

Processo di avvtlenamente (Elisa- 

betta Sirani), 255 sqq. 
Properzia de' Rossi, 167-86 
Prospero Fontana, 195, 196, 199, 

200, 201, 206, 209, 210 

Public Prosecutor, 267 

Quercia, Jacopo della, 173 
Queen Elizabeth. See Elizabeth 

Raimondi, Marc' Antonio, 170, 186 
Rainieri, Jacopo, 169 
Rangoni, Aldrovandino di, 28 
Ranuzzi, Annibale, Count, 234, 

263, 264 
Raphael, 170, 245 
Ratta, Monsignore, 209, 210 
Reni, Guide, 7, 212, 229, 230, 234, 

238, 239, 288, 290, 292, 301, 304 
Reno, Canale di, 179, 184 
Riali, 275 

Riario, Carlo, Dr., 146 
Ricci Corrado, 240 
Ricciarda Saluzzo, 50 
Richter, Jean-Paul, 297 
Roberto Beato, 40, 50, 75 
Rome, 185, 195, 206, 208, 209, 212, 

218, 290 
Rossetti, Dante Gabriel, 193 
Rossi, Giovanni Martino, 168 
Rossi, Girolamo, 168 
Rossi, Properzia. S»e Properzia 

Sabadino degli Arienti, 139, 140, 

Sabina, S., Church of (Rome), 206 
Salimbene, Fra, 94, 302 
Saluzzo, Ricciarda. See Ricciarda 
Samaritana, Sister, her death, 120- 


Sarto, Andrea del, 202, 246 
Savonarola, 44, 45 
Sciroppo Acetoso, 278-9 
Sedazzi Bernardina. See Bernardina 
Servants in the seventeenth century, 

258, 259 

Sette Arme, S. Caterina's book : , 
its opening, 13, 32; its character- 
istics, 37, 38 ; its object and first 
draft, 68, 69 

Sforza, Galeazzo Maria, 26 

Sforza, Ginevra. See Bentivoglio 

Siena, 54 

Sirani family, 234, 238, 242, 257, 

Sirani, Elisabetta. See Elisabetta 

Sirani, Gian Andrea, 239-63 

Sirani, Barbara, 240-65 

Sirani, Giacoma, 249, 297 

Sirani, Margherita, 252-62 

Sixtus V, Pope, 211 

Stark, Mrs., 289 

Symonds, Addington, 178 

Taddea, Abbess, 66, 88, 99, 100 

Tebaldello, 250 

Teresa, S., 37, 38, 292 

Terzina, 113, 114 

Teste, Fulvio, 229 

Third Order of Franciscans in 

Bologna, loi \ 

Thomas, St. , of Canterbury, 59, 60 
Tiarini, 292 
Titian, 201, 245 
Toffana, La, 284 
Torrone, Prison, 268, 269 
Torrone, Auditor of, 267, 269, 272 
Torrone, Sub-Auditor of, 268 
Torture, 272 
Tosignano, Giovanni da, Bishop 

of Ferrara, 74 
Tower of the Lions, Ferrara, 28 



Triaca ("Venice Treacle"), 279, 

280, 281 
Tribolo, 175 
Trombetti, i 

Uffizi. Sei Galleries 

Uffizio della difesa dei Poveri, 271 

Vasari, 169, 170, 171, 177, 178, 

182, i8s 
Veil, manner of wearing, 116 
Venice, 201, 245, 280; and see 

Verme, Luigi dal, Mercenary, 78 
Vesuvius, in pasteboard, 251 
Vignola, Barozzi da, 198 
Vigri family ; pedigree, 14 
Vigri Benvenuta (de' Mamolini), 

19. 20, 73, H4, 133 
Vigri Caterina. See Caterina 
Vigri Giovanni, 15-24, 41 

Vincent, St., 129 

Vincenzio, Antonio, architect, 172 

Vinidani, Jacopo dei, teacher in 

Bologna, 17 
Violetta of S. Caterina, 127 
Viridario, 169 
Visconti, Filippo Maria, 78 
Visions of S. Caterina, S9-64, 90, 

91, 105, 106, 162 
Vita Nuova of Dante, 94, 95 
Vizzani, Pompeo, 209, 210 

Wages of servants in twelfth cen- 
tury, 258, 259 
Whitesmith, 275 
Women's education, 30 
Women, learned, I, 2, 31 

Zanichelli, Lorenzo, 273 
Zappis, de, 207, 208 











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